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Native Language Speakers Achieve Recognition in the Minnesota Bilingual Seal Program

The Bilingual Seals Program is an examination system in Minnesota for recognizing proficiency in both English and another language. Typically, the test is completed by students who complete AP and IB courses, but this year teachers within the World Languages department at St. Louis Park High School encouraged the participation of native language and heritage speakers. A total of 23 native language speakers of various languages completed the exam with 21 achieving recognition status. 

Among the 21 students who were awarded recognition, their achievements ranged across the three levels. One student achieved the highest level, the Bilingual Platinum Seal, and the remaining students achieved Gold and World Language proficiency. Attaining recognition not only serves as a testament to their linguistic capabilities but also offers the advantage of college credit.

St. Louis Park High School senior, Ashey Reyes Castillo participated in the Bilingual Seals Program this year. She took the opportunity because she felt it would benefit her for college credits and to demonstrate her fluency. 

“It was nice to see that my first language could benefit me really well, [especially] when I have been using English for school and had to learn it when I was little,” she shared.

There are a number of languages offered including Spanish, Russian, Somali, Oromo, German, French and Arabic. Students who receive one of the three award levels (Bilingual Platinum Seal, Bilingual Gold Seal, and World Language Proficiency Certificate) qualify for 2-4 semesters of college credit. To attain these seals, students must demonstrate proficiency in reading, writing, listening and speaking in a second language.

´╗┐Hanna Anderson teaches Spanish in the World Language Department at the high school. She saw the benefit of offering the Bilingual Seals program to students, which is why she wanted to try offering the test to native language speakers this year. She was excited by the amount of student interest and engagement, and hopes the test continues to be offered to native language speakers in future years. Just after offering it this year, she already has a number of ideas to increase student success.

“There is a lot of pride for students, and it’s valuable. It is validating to be recognized for their ability to be bilingual,” she shared.

One of the great aspects of the program is that advanced course placement is not a requirement, which allows for speakers of different language backgrounds to complete the test. The involvement of students this year showcases cultural diversity in education and emphasizes the value of students who are fluent in multiple languages. Their involvement not only makes language assessments more genuine but also encourages a greater understanding of language diversity.

The increased participation also encourages students to see the value in speaking multiple languages while receiving recognition and college credit. This initiative serves to promote the growing need of language proficiency and intercultural understanding. 

Senior Suweis Hussein took the test in Somali, which is his native language, but she hopes to take it again in the future in Arabic. She sees great value in learning multiple languages, and plans to develop her proficiency.

“I started an Arabic club because I wanted the school to see that adding that course is valuable to a lot of students. Throughout the process of establishing my club I was telling Ms. Lugo about it. We talked about the different languages I'm fluent in and I hoped to have taken my high school years but I wasn't able to. She had sent me an email for me to take the bilingual seal in a language I was pretty confident in. She told me a lot about the bilingual seal and how it would benefit me. Fast forward, I got the invitation to take it, so I did,” Hussein shared.

Though the test experience came with some nerves, Hussein was encouraged by her parents' belief in his language abilities. She plans to submit his results to the college she will be attending and hopes to get course credit for his accomplishment.

While the program acknowledges the proficiency of participating students, it also encourages continuous improvement. Students are allowed and encouraged to retake the exam to achieve a higher certification. Retaking it multiple times can serve as a way to further enhance language and comprehension skills. 

Additionally, there is a cost of approximately $25 for students taking the exam. While the cost can be a deterrent for some students, there are efforts to mitigate the student expense, especially for students completing the test for less common languages. Grants and financial assistance programs are available to lessen the cost.

As the Bilingual Seal Program continues to grow, St. Louis Park Public Schools will continue to encourage native language speakers and students from diverse backgrounds to complete the examination process. It not only celebrates linguistic achievement but also fosters a deeper appreciation for languages that enrich our world.