Students strive for Seal of Biliteracy to enhance life, job skills

State designation recognizes students’ fluency in a second language

English as a second language teacher Madison Veneklase helps Mahamud Ahmed, an immigrant from Eritrea, Africa, prepare for his Seal of Biliteracy test

Following winter break, Cedar Springs senior Tonya Tepin delivered a five-minute presentation using her second language in Advanced Placement Spanish class.

Her holiday homework was to prepare a presentation on Spanish architecture.

“We are presenting different architectures from Spain,” Tonya said of her speech. “It’s helping us learn more about the beauty and aesthetics in different Spanish-speaking countries and cultures.” 

Tonya and her class, consisting of 36 fifth-year AP Spanish students, are hoping to earn the Seal of Biliteracy, a special state recognition recognizing students’ second-language skills. 

“I decided to take the Seal of Biliteracy because I want to see where I’m at in my knowledge of Spanish after taking five years,” said Tonya, who plans to major in biology with a focus on pre-veterinary studies at Olivet College next year. “I am taking this test so I can travel a little bit more and learn things from new places, and for a possible emergency that might be helpful to know another language.”

Madison Veneklase, English as a second language teacher, said they are awarding the Michigan Seal of Biliteracy for the first time this year to qualifying seniors.

Michigan Seal of Biliteracy
• The Seal of Biliteracy is an award given to graduating seniors by the Michigan Department of Education in recognition of students who have attained proficiency in English and one or more languages by high school graduation.
• The seal was created to encourage students to study world languages and embrace their native and heritage languages. Michigan is one of three dozen states awarding the seal
• It provides employers with a way to identify individuals with strong language and biliteracy skills, and enables colleges and universities to recognize applicants’ language abilities for admission and placement.
• A survey showed 66 percent of employers value foreign-language skills in the hiring process. There is a growing need for bilingual employees across a wide range of occupations.

Source: Michigan Department of Education

“We have a mixture of students who speak a language other than English as their first language, and students who have taken multiple Spanish classes that will be awarded the Seal of Biliteracy,” Veneklase said. “The seal is a newer concept that was created to acknowledge bilingualism, especially for future career paths.”

The Michigan Seal of Biliteracy was created to recognize high school graduates who exhibit language proficiency in English and at least one additional world language, according to the Michigan Department of Education website.

The seal will provide employers with a way to identify prospective hires with strong language and biliteracy skills, and enable colleges to recognize applicants’ language abilities for admission and placement.

The Proof is in the Testing

Spanish teacher Amy Holmes welcomes the seal as evidence of proficiency in more than one language.

“I’m super excited,” said Holmes, in her 14th year at Cedar Springs. “It’s a great way to honor students and the hard work that they’ve put in. It gives them something to show that their hard work has paid off.”

Holmes said the seal can be earned by many different tests. The district is using the web-based Avant STAMP (Standards-Based Measure of Proficiency) 4S Test, which measures a student’s language ability according to national proficiency benchmarks.

‘It’s a great way to honor students and the hard work that they’ve put in.’

— Spanish teacher Amy Holmes

Senior Tressa Hall said the seal will be a bonus for her resume.

“It’s important for future employers to see that I have that level of proficiency,” said Tressa, who’ll major in Spanish next year at Florida Atlantic University. 

English as a Second Language

Conversely, Veneklase is testing two seniors on their English skills to earn the Seal of Biliteracy. Both students immigrated to the United States and have been learning English, and soon hope to earn the seal.

“We have a growing population of immigrant and refugee families in Cedar Springs who are learning English,” Veneklase said. “So, ESL classes are needed to help students navigate a new language and culture.

“I love teaching ESL because it gives me the opportunity to be a part of someone’s journey into a new language and culture,” she added.

Senior Mahamud Ahmed, who immigrated from Eritrea, Africa, is one of the students hoping to attain the seal.

“I didn’t speak any English when I came here,” said Mahamud, who’s been in the United States for three years and plans to be a nurse. “It was hard learning a different language. I learned mostly from class and schoolmates.”

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Cris Greer
For more than three decades, Cris Greer has been a wordsmith, working in the fields of journalism, advertising and marketing. Much of the past decade, he helped grow the MLive Statewide High School Sports desk as a supervisor, editor and reporter, which included eight newspapers in Michigan and mlive.com. Cris also was a freelancer for The Grand Rapids Press, The Advance and On the Town magazine for many years. A good portion of his early career was spent building and managing the copywriting team in the advertising department at Meijer, Inc., where he oversaw copywriting for print ads, mailers, brochures, signage, several dozen in-house magazines per year and much more. Read Cris's full bio or email Cris.

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