By Teresa Dovalpage
For The Taos News
This is the first year in the history of Taos High School that the "Seal of Biliteracy" is offered to graduating seniors.
On Wednesday (April 19), 18 Taos High School students demonstrated their bilingual proficiency to a committee of administrators, teachers, parents and community members.
"This is the result of an extraordinary effort from all our faculty, teachers and students," said Robert Trujillo, principal of Taos High School. "They all have been working very hard to make it happen."
The Seal of Biliteracy is an award given to students who have attained proficiency in a language other than English by the time they graduate from high school.
The emblem appears on the diploma of the graduating seniors. It is also included as a notation on the student's transcript. Its purpose is to encourage students to pursue biliteracy and to honor the skills that they have already mastered. More than 25 states offer the Seal of Biliteracy, including Arizona, Colorado, California, Texas, Illinois, New York and Washington.
All participating students prepared a PowerPoint presentation that demonstrated their knowledge of Spanish. They included topics like comparing cultures and making connections, communicating about themselves, talking about family life and future goals and discussing their involvement in the community. At the end, they answered questions from the audience and chose two other questions (in English or Spanish) from a list. They had already written a personal narrative in Spanish that was evaluated by the committee.
Fabiola Bermudez talked about her involvement with MAYA (Mexican-American Youth Association). She referred to similarities and differences between Mexican and New Mexican culture and, on a lighthearted note, emphasized their common appreciation for chile.
"Sin chile, la comida no sabe igual," she said. (Without chile, food doesn't taste the same.)
Cristian Arreola Ruiz talked about his family life and his dreams of becoming a sports announcer.
"Spanish is the first language that I learned at home," he said. "English is my second language, and I use both every day."
James Valerio and Aurelia Chavez spoke about their experiences of learning Spanish as a second language. Mariachi has been a motivation for learning Spanish, as well as being able to communicate with their family members in two languages.
"This is the culmination of the last two years of hard work toward reaching our goal of seeing the first ever graduating class of Taos High School who have completed the requirements needed to receive the bilingual seal affixed to their diplomas," said Dr. Catherine Collins, a bilingual/ Spanish teacher and gifted program case manager at Taos High School. "We also want to recognize the bilingual programs at Enos Garcia, Ranchos and Arroyos del Norte elementary schools. All of them deserve the credit for opening a bilingual pathway for our students."
"Receiving the seal is very important," said Spanish teacher Luis Madrid. "This is something that the students are going to take with them when they go on to college and to work. Being bilingual will help them to be successful in life."
"The biliteracy seal is of great significance at this moment," said Spanish teacher Laura DumondKerr. "It shows that the United States is moving towards an appreciation of bilingualism and multiculturalism. Something unique in New Mexico is that we have the biliteracy seal in native languages, too. Taos Pueblo will recommend some students that will be recognized at graduation this year for their knowledge in Tiwa. It is also important that these languages are recognized within the school as ... academic knowledge, as well as a vehicle for communication and for the better understanding of other cultures."
Andrea Nicholson, a native of Uruguay, works as a Spanish teacher at Taos Charter School.
"I am here as a volunteer," she said. "But as a teacher, I am amazed at how much the students are learning. The seal attests to their proficiency in four language skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing. It also shows the pride the students have in their culture. And when they go to college, they will be able to move easily between two worlds."
Margarita Mendoza de Kaulakis, a parent, is from Mexico City.
"Obtaining the seal will help the students to preserve or improve their Spanish," she said. "It will help them in their future, but it is also motivating them right now."
"It's great to see how well the students can speak from their heart and share their stories," said community member Debbie Maestas. "There is a sense of hope for the future."
"This is a big step forward for our students," said Melissa Sandoval, assistant superintendent.
Superintendent Lilian Torrez, the three Spanish teachers, Nicholson, Mendoza, Maestas and Sandoval were in the evaluating committee. Victoria Gonzales and Lawrence Medina from University of New Mexico-Taos were also part of the event.
We are very excited," said Torrez. "This time, the seal is being offered in English and Spanish, but we are working with Taos Pueblo to have it available in Tiwa as well."
Torrez said, "Our students are amazing. They have worked hard and they have met all the criteria to get the Seal of Biliteracy. This will be great for them not only now, but also after they graduate from college. It is something that they can use for the rest of their lives."
See the Spanish version of this story on Page C4.