A beaming high school senior, proudly wearing both her Cal-Berkeley sweatshirt and her newly awarded Seal of Biliteracy medal, paused in the aisle of the Mello Center to hug a young Language Ambassador. This was one of the highlights of two recent ceremonies honoring two hundred seventy seven elementary school students from four districts as Language Ambassadors this spring.
Language Ambassadors is an enrichment program started by the Santa Cruz County Office of Education in 2016-2017 to promote multilingualism. Students work with their families and teachers to complete activities that require them to learn, interact and create in a language other than English. For example, students might create bilingual or trilingual dictionaries, learn and perform a song or poem or host visitors. In addition to the benefits that knowing multiple languages has for individuals, multilingual individuals weave a community together. Santa Cruz COE Multilingual Coordinator Sofia Sorensen had this reflection:
When I interviewed Language Ambassadors from Pacific Elementary about how they chose the language they were studying, they told me it was their grandparents’ language, or their father’s language, or the language that their mom’s friend spoke, or that their cousins who were coming to visit spoke, or that their friend’s family spoke. I realized then the power that multilingualism has to build connections and strengthen our community.
Participating districts this year included Pajaro Valley Unified School District, Mountain Elementary School District, Pacific Elementary and Live Oak School District. Students from Pajaro Valley Unified were recognized in a ceremony held at the Mello Center in Watsonville, in conjunction with a ceremony for graduating seniors receiving the Seal of Biliteracy. Students from Live Oak, Mountain and Pacific were honored in a ceremony at the Santa Cruz COE. The COE ceremony featured presentations such as songs and slides prepared by the students to share their learning.
Over sixteen languages were represented by this year’s Language Ambassadors, including: Spanish, Tagalog, Hebrew, Russian, Swedish, Japanese, Hindi, American Sign Language, Hawaiian, Arabic, Mixtec, French, German, Dutch, Italian and Farsi.
Language Ambassadors is designed to encourage language learning in both students who already speak a language other than English with their families and in those who speak English at home and want to become multilingual. Although many students do study languages spoken by their families, others, such as the group of students at H.A Hyde who are already bilingual in English and Spanish, chose to study French. Participating schools were: Amesti Elementary, Del Mar Elementary, H. A. Hyde Elementary, Live Oak Elementary, Mintie White Elementary, Mountain Elementary, Ohlone Elementary, Pacific Elementary, and Starlight Elementary.