In late June of 2017, as schools were preparing for their final weeks to graduation, there were a number of students preparing presentations for a panel of language experts in order to earn the New York State Seal of Biliteracy. The NYS Seal was awarded this year to students who demonstrated a high level of proficiency in English and another language.  

Having started in California, this initiative has now been developed by more than two dozen states and the District of Columbia in the past few years. While some states require students to earn a high score on an Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exam, the NYS students earn credit towards the award through a variety of methods including coursework, examinations, transcripts, projects and scholarly essays. 

In the first full year of implementation, the NYS Seal was awarded to over 1,400 students from over 55 districts of which 20 percent were at one time English Language Learners/Multilingual Language Learners (ELLs/MLLs) with home languages ranging from Albanian to Vietnamese. In fact, 27 languages were represented from 38 countries around the globe. This vast array of languages speaks to the abundance of cultures co-existing in New York State. Through their hard work and perseverance, these students have demonstrated the value of multiculturalism and bilingualism in today’s diverse communities. While the road to earning the NYS Seal of Biliteracy can be difficult and time consuming, there were a number of students from around the state that were able to earn the NYS Seal in multiple languages. “We are very proud of our students who opted to pursue the Seal, because they recognize and understand the importance of multilingualism in today’s global society!” said Chastity Beato, Supervisor of Language Acquisition at Newburgh Enlarged City School District, where three students, including the Salutatorian, earned the Seal in Spanish and Italian.

Many of the students earning the NYS Seal first began learning a second language in middle school and were able to develop their interpersonal, interpretive and presentational skills at a very high level while enrolled in college level courses in high school. In a relatively short amount of time, these students reached the required level of proficiency necessary for the NYS Seal.

This recognition is a declaration of the importance and value of language learning. Students that perform at this level not only know the language but also have an understanding of the people, culture and customs that come with it. Classroom instruction goes beyond vocabulary and grammar exercises. Classrooms are having students not just acquire the necessary language skills but also the cultural awareness and understanding that comes with this learning. 

Lissette Colon-Collins, Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Bilingual Education and World Languages adds “We are very pleased with all the effort and accomplishments of this year’s recipients and we wish them the very best as they pursue new and exciting opportunities in the years ahead. We hope that they continue to study languages, travel, and interact with different people and cultures within and beyond our New York State borders.”