Santa Cruz County Celebrates Multilingual Students

As part of its promotion of multilingualism as an asset both for individuals and for our community as a whole, the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, in partnership with county school districts, recognized almost four hundred students.

children and parents sitting in auditorium chairsTwo hundred sixty graduating seniors received the prestigious State Seal of Biliteracy. In order to earn the State Seal of Biliteracy, students must demonstrate that they are proficient in two or more languages both orally and in writing. The most popular language in Santa Cruz County this year was Spanish, followed by French, Latin, Chinese, Vietnamese and Ilocano. Sheena Gee, of Scotts Valley High School, distinguished herself by earning the award for three languages: English, French and Spanish. To prove abilities in their languages, students must demonstrate high academic achievement in English, as measured on standardized tests of English language arts, as well as a C average in their English classes. To demonstrate their abilities in a language other than English, students must either pass an AP language test with a 3 or better in their junior year, or enroll in four years of a foreign language and maintain a B or better average for that class. Students may also prove their proficiency in a language other than English through the Scholastic Assessment Test II Foreign Language Examination or other foreign language assessment available in the student’s language other than English.

California is the first state to establish a State Seal of Biliteracy program. To date, thirty states have formal Seal of Biliteracy Award programs and four more have programs under consideration.

In addition to the 260 graduating seniors recognized for bilingualism, over 170 elementary school students were honored as Language Ambassadors. The first year of this program drew participants from five schools in three districts, covering the geographic breadth of the county from Pacific Elementary in Davenport to Hall District Elementary School, across the Pajaro River, in Pajaro Valley Unified School District. Other schools participating in the first year of the program included Mintie White and Starlight Elementary schools in Pajaro Valley Unified and Green Acres Elementary in Live Oak School District.

To earn recognition as a Language Ambassador, a student most complete a total of six activities throughout the year to show that they are working on learning and developing a language other than English. Some students choose to study a language spoken by their families at home and others choose an additional language. For example, Hall District students participated in a Japanese club run by teacher Aimee Mizuno, who herself speaks English, Spanish and Japanese. Spanish and Japanese were the most popular languages studied, but students also became Language Ambassadors for French, German, Yaqui, Swahili and Hawaiian. Mia Kamoss of Green Acres is working towards becoming trilingual in English, German and Spanish. Houssin Swan, also of Green Acres, is doing the same but in English, French and Spanish. The Language Ambassadors, which included thirty-three TK-K-1graders, sixty-seven 2nd -3rd graders and seventy-five 4th -5th graders, were honored at both at a Santa Cruz COE Board meeting on May 18 and also at a special recognition night held in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District’s Board Room on May 17.