Some Vermont students will soon be able to include a new honor recognition on their high school resumes and transcripts.
On Wednesday, May 2, the Vermont Legislature approved a resolution in support of the Seal of Biliteracy, an award given in recognition of students who have studied and attained proficiency in two or more languages by high school graduation. Younger students can also receive “pathway” awards along different points of language mastery.
The Seal was started in California in 2010 as a means to promote educational equity for English language learners. Over the years, the Seal of Biliteracy became a sought-after award for native English speakers who have learned another tongue in school.
Keri Bristow, one of the organizers of the Vermont initiative and a teacher of Spanish at Woodstock Union High School said, “The Seal of Biliteracy promotes world language programs and gives students a goal to reach for in their learning.”
The Seal of Biliteracy is recognized in approximately 30 states and the District of Columbia. In Vermont, economic development is one of the reasons behind the support for bilingualism. Between 2010 and 2016, online job postings for bilingual workers increased 62.7 percent. Demand for proficiency in Spanish was also substantial. Over the same time period, postings for candidates who speak Spanish rose 29.7 percent.
The problem with creating a bilingual workforce is that the level of language needed to help customers is much higher than what is needed to go on vacation. Elaine Leibly, another of the campaign’s organizers, recalls getting her first job as the only bilingual customer service representative in Shawmut Bank’s customer service center. “This was in the early days of call centers, and Shawmut was on the leading edge,” said Leibly. “Apparently previous applicants had said they spoke Spanish, but weren’t proficient enough to guide someone through a complex banking transaction or customer complaint.”
Two Vermont high schools, Woodstock Union Middle/High School and St. Johnsbury Academy, will conduct Seal of Biliteracy pilot programs in the 2018-2019 school year. Mary Beth Banios, superintendent of the Windsor Central Unified District, calls participation in the pilot program a “no-brainer,” noting that it benefits students.
For more information, visit sealofbiliteracy.org.