Seal honors achievement in biliteracy

April 3, 2023

By Emilia Calabrese

When peer leader senior Henry Pinto led his first Peer Group Connection session of the year, he encountered a student from a Spanish-speaking country who did not speak any English. Putting his bilingual skills to use, Pinto decided to approach him.

After introducing himself to the student in Spanish, Pinto asked him questions about his favorite food, music artist, sports and how he felt about coming to the United States.

“He responded in Spanish [and told me] how much he misses his family… and how difficult it is for him to start a new life in a new country not speaking English,” Pinto said.

Pinto said being able to communicate in the student’s native language allowed him to form a connection with him.

“It reminded me of my parents and how they also faced that struggle when they left Ecuador and moved to the United States not knowing English,” Pinto said.

Pinto, who also comes from a Spanish-speaking household, said his parents always stressed the importance of knowing both English and Spanish, two of the most spoken languages worldwide.

“I told him one day [he] can be like me, who is bilingual, and can help others like I helped him feel included and not alone,” Pinto said. 

Pinto is among the 34 students who earned the New Jersey Seal of Biliteracy, an award that recognizes students who have attained proficiency in two or more languages. These students were honored by the Board of Education on March 16 in the auditorium, where they each received a medal. They will also have a permanent seal on their diplomas and have the achievement documented on their transcripts.

To earn this designation, seniors were required to pass the Seal of Biliteracy test, which was offered at LHS in January. The test consisted of speaking, reading, listening and writing sections. Students can also earn the Seal of Biliteracy by scoring a four or above on the Advanced Placement Spanish Language and Culture exam, which will take place in the spring.

“At a young age, I’ve had many difficulties learning both languages at the same time,” Pinto said. “I can proudly say I successfully accomplished my goal of being 100% fluent in both English and Spanish language with speaking, listening and writing.”

Spanish teacher Señora Rojas, who oversaw the Seal of Biliteracy test at LHS, said the designation honors students’ rich and diverse language assets, encourages the study of world languages, promotes culture appreciation and provides employers and universities with a way to identify bilingual candidates. 

“I can proudly say I successfully accomplished my goal of being 100% fluent in both English and Spanish language with speaking, listening and writing.”

Forty-four students took the Seal of Biliteracy test, with one Korean speaker, one Portuguese speaker, three Turkish speakers and 29 Spanish speakers earning the seal.

“We are fortunate that the Lyndhurst School District continues to fund Seal of Biliteracy testing for graduating seniors,” Rojas said. “I will always encourage students who are interested in challenging themselves to try to achieve the Seal of Biliteracy.”

Senior Nicole Bae, who speaks Korean at home, was among the Seal of Biliteracy recipients.

“It will help me get a job in places that would benefit from a Korean employee. It also shows employers that I have the dedication and commitment to learn new skills,” Bae said.  

She said the Seal of Biliteracy encouraged her to learn how to speak Korean more proficiently because she prepared for the assessment by working on her speaking skills and taking practice tests. 

“I’m proud of earning it because I struggled to keep myself motivated to learn Korean as I grew up,” Bae said.

Senior Keilani Gomez, who also earned the Seal of Biliteracy, said she took the exam in Spanish, which she speaks at home. 

“Since my freshman year, [Señora] Rojas encouraged me to take the Seal [of Biliteracy Test] because not only will it signify that I am bilingual, but it will help me in my future,” Gomez said.

She recalls putting her Spanish skills to use two summers ago when she was at the Department of Motor Vehicles in Wayne and noticed a woman struggling to communicate with the employee at the front desk. 

“I walked up to her and helped her with translating. It’s such a good skill to have because it is an opportunity to connect with people and help others when they truly need it,” Gomez said.

She said being bilingual will help her in her future endeavors. 

“I want to use Spanish to be able to help translate and be as effective as possible,” Gomez said. “I [feel] proud and accomplished but also honored to speak another language like my family.”

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