Roaring Fork School District bilingual students earn academic credit for language knowledge
Seal of biliteracy program helps certify students’ biliteracy for higher education, career opportunities
Students within the Roaring Fork School District are able to graduate high school with tangible proof of their bilingual abilities thanks to the Seal of Biliteracy program that started back in 2017.
Amy Fairbanks is the Director of RFSD’s Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Education and said completion of the seal is beneficial to students after graduating as they enter the real world and go on to attain higher education or begin their careers.
“It acknowledges and encourages the students to develop bilingual and biliteracy skills, and it helps them prepare for skills that will benefit them in their future professions in the world. It also provides future employers with a way of identifying students with high linguistic, biliteracy skills,” Fairbanks said.
Roaring Fork High School had a small pilot version for students in 2017-2018 so the district could make sure the seal was attainable but also set a standard of a similar caliber to other neighboring district programs, like in Eagle County, Fairbanks said. The School Board policy states that the seal will be awarded to students who meet the minimum proficiency in all four language domains (listening, reading, writing and speaking) in the target language. It is also required for them to be academically proficient in reading and writing for each language they are pursuing for the seal.
Vanessa Leon-Gamez is a senior at RFHS who attained the seal of biliteracy last year. Leon-Gamez said she thinks the seal is important, particularly for students who are native speakers of languages besides English, since English is what is taught and spoken in classrooms. She said the seal helped her to maintain proficiency in Spanish, her first language, and also to receive credit for the skills she already had.
“Sometimes we lose our Spanish as we go through school since English is what’s spoken at school. So I think it’s important that we continue to study it (Spanish) and continue to prove that we are fluent because it is really useful to be bilingual,and it connects us to different people and cultures,” Leon-Gamez said.
Fairbanks said in order to pursue the seal, a letter of intent is required by the student and the parents/guardians showing their understanding of the work the seal requires. When the student feels ready, Fairbanks said, they have options on how they can prove their proficiency and it isn’t limited to just one test that would make or break things for them.
“We wanted to make sure we weren’t basing the seal on just one test, because maybe they had a bad day. Or maybe that’s not the way they can show how proficient they are…we have a lot of different ways that students can show proficiency. Most of the students like to submit for the writing, academic writing, a writing sample they did for a class that was really successful and then we use a common rubric to rate that. We also use standardized tests like the Spanish AP and the English AP test because we have to show in both languages,” Fairbanks said.
Since the pilot program wrapped up in the academic year 2017-2018, Fairbanks said there were 42 students awarded the seal in 2018-19 and 41 students in 2019-20. In that first year Faribanks said there were 31 students who were native Spanish speakers, 8 who were native English speakers, 2 that were native in English and Spanish, and then one student who was native in German. The following year in 2019-20, it was more evenly split with 22 Spanish and 19 English speakers, Fairbanks said. The pandemic didn’t cause too much of a shift in the number of students involved between the two years, and Fairbanks said the district will need to wait until after graduation to see how many students receive the seal in 2020-21.
“It shows that we value and honor the richness of their linguistic and cultural diversity. Students who attain the seal are an asset to our community, and students who seek the seal and may not attain it are an asset to our community too,” Fairbanks said.
Leon-Gamez said that in addition to preserving her native language she is excited to attend college with the credit on her transcript from the seal, and may even pursue coursework in a third language while she’s there.
“I think now there’s a lot of job opportunities for people who are bilingual and this is just a solid way to prove that I am. It is recognizing that I am a bilingual person and I think that was just important to me.”
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Prospective candidates are being sought for two open Carbondale/Basalt-area Roaring Fork Schools Board of Education seats that will be up for election Nov. 2 for four-year terms.