The Recorder – Celebrating ‘the gift of language’: Three Frontier students earn Seal of Biliteracy

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Do you speak Spanish and English? Because these three students at Frontier Regional School do.

As the school looks to expand its second-language options for students looking to add an additional language to their repertoire, three students have attained the Seal of Biliteracy, an award given by a school district in recognition of students who have studied and attained proficiency in two or more languages ​​by high school graduation. This is commemorated by a gold seal that goes on the student’s high school diploma. Massachusetts adopted the program in 2017, according to the program’s website.

The three students — juniors Fernando Saravia and Leo Cooney, along with senior Camila Rodriguez — completed the Seal of Biliteracy test, an hours-long exam that tests reading comprehension, writing, listening and speaking of a foreign language. Cooney, who lived in Paris for many years, also took the exam in French.

Frontier Spanish teacher Pamela Sharron helped set the students up for the exam. In addition to proving their proficiency in their chosen language, the students must also pass the English Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) to receive the seal.

“I think this is an exciting incentive to showcase language acquisition,” Sharron said in her classroom.

Cooney found her love for Spanish when she took a year off from school and moved to Spain last year, while Saravia’s family hails from El Salvador and Rodriguez is from Venezuela.

“I started learning English when I first got into school in kindergarten,” Saravia recounted. “I speak Spanish with both of my parents because they’re from El Salvador. They’re not fully fluent in English, so it’s easier.”

While the students have had plenty of experience with Spanish in the past, Sharron said the challenge comes from having to learn the academic side of the languages, which — like English and every other language — is different than how we speak to friends and family.

The students said their preparation for the test wasn’t like how they’d study for a science exam because it’s testing knowledge of a language, which you either know or you don’t. While there are multiple choice and writing sections, they said the challenge came from the speaking portion, where they had to speak into a microphone about themselves or a topic that was given to them, which was then graded by the organization.

“I did a few practice tests on the website, just to see what they were like, but I didn’t actually study them,” Cooney said. “The speaking part was challenging. It was pre-recorded questions, and some of them are open-ended questions and you have a limited time to respond.”

The students took a brief dive into their relationships with the languages ​​they’ve learned and how different situations trigger different languages ​​to come into their brains and out of their mouths.

“It really depends on who I’m talking to,” Cooney said. “Sometimes I accidentally say words in French, like when I’m mad.”

“At home, I think in Spanish just because it’s automatic now,” Saravia said “But in public, it’s English.”

With her family speaking Spanish and Italian at home, Rodriguez said Spanish has become her “emotional language” because if she’s speaking it, it likely means she’s talking to her mother or another close relative.

Several other students took the Seal of Biliteracy exam, but did not fully pass. The good thing, Sharron noted, is that they are allowed to redo the section they didn’t pass next year, without having to retake the parts they did pass.

With the success and growing interest in the language initiative — Frontier will be offering Chinese next year — Sharron hopes more students will take the plunge into learning another language.

“I think we’re going to try and get even more students who speak other languages,” she said. “It’s such a gift that parents can give to their children. The gift of language, a second language or third language, it just unites us as a people.”

Adding to that, Sharron said knowing multiple languages ​​is more than just being able to talk and understand them. Rather, it’s a part of becoming a “global citizen.”

“It’s such an important skill. Not only are we teaching language, but culture, and you’re teaching empathy and cultural intelligence,” Sharron said. “These are students who will go into the world already having a basic understanding of what it is to be human and struggle, not just on a language standpoint. It’s building connections.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at [email protected] or 413-930-4081.

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