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Beyond barriers: SVVSD encourages biliteracy in multiple languages

In a globalized society, knowing a second language provides an advantage.
Students work on English and Spanish vocabulary at Rocky Mountain Elementary. Photo by Eunice Peinado.

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In a globalized society, knowing a second language provides an advantage, and allows us to communicate across boundaries and cultures. The ability to speak more than one language is a valuable asset that can open many doors. It provides students with the ability to improve their educational development and social and emotional skills, improves cultural awareness, and provides more opportunities in an increasingly globalized economy.

As St. Vrain prepares students for success, there are many opportunities for students to engage in learning a new language. As you walk through the halls of our schools, or visit our classrooms, you will hear a chorus composed of students connecting with each other through language, whether they are learning English, embracing their native language, or practicing a new one.

When children are exposed to a second language, it can be like an exercise machine for their minds. Research shows that learning a new language activates new parts of the brain that are used for processing sounds not regularly found in their native language. Young learners are able to create functionality through connecting the neural pathways that recognize and have the ability to switch between languages.

One way St. Vrain promotes bilingualism is through the Seal of Biliteracy, a prestigious award recognizing proficiency in two or more languages by high school graduation, that includes an official seal on a student’s transcript.

As students pursue the Seal of Biliteracy, it motivates them to take advanced language courses, promotes global skills by enhancing connections with their own language and culture, and builds knowledge and understanding of other cultures. In 2022, 135 St. Vrain graduates earned their Seal of Biliteracy with languages such as Spanish, French, German, Mandarin Chinese, and more. 

For students to become successful in a second language by the time they enter high school, they first need the necessary support and tools in the early grades. By teaching students the academic vocabulary in the early years, they are better prepared to become academically successful as they move on to middle and high school.

“We are beginning to use the Seal of Biliteracy model in the early grades, and speaking to students about the importance of being multilingual and what an asset that skill can be for their future,” shared Janette Rivera Gonzalez, Elementary Literacy and English Language Development Coordinator. 

Rivera Gonzalez provides teachers with support as they focus on teaching multilingual learners. “I have biliteracy meetings throughout the year with literacy teachers and we work on advancing cross-linguistic connections with bilingual and non-bilingual classrooms,” shared Rivera Gonzalez. 

As students receive the support they need to learn a second language, their cognitive development increases. The ability to read and think in more than one language promotes higher levels of thought and students begin to have a stronger foundation.

Biliteracy classes for English language learners are beneficial to students both academically and personally, as they provide students with the instruction they need to be better prepared for their future. For students to become proficient in both languages, they need to sync the two together. “They do not stop the use of one language to learn another. Instead, we focus on bringing the two together,” shared Leticia Melendez, English Language Learner Teacher (ELL) at Rocky Mountain Elementary School. 

Supporting multilingual learning is a powerful collaboration between students and the teachers working with them. First, acknowledging and honoring their first language and then using that to provide students with the connections they need to become successful.

St. Vrain also focuses on building community and connections for Newcomers, English language learners who are new to the U.S. As a former Newcomer, Ines Garcia knows firsthand the benefits of these opportunities. When she arrived from Mexico at 17 years old, Garcia enrolled in the Newcomers program at Skyline High School, from which she successfully graduated in 2002. Currently, Garcia serves as the Newcomer Program Teacher at Timberline PK-8.

The Newcomer program is designed to help bridge the educational and social-emotional experience of students who are new to this country by providing appropriate content-area instruction, building and strengthening their native language skills, and supporting the students and their families as they transition into a general education classroom.

Throughout the school year, Garcia works hard to build relationships with her students. “They are looking for somebody that will make them feel safe, someone they can relate to, and someone who can answer their questions and make them feel supported.”

Garcia’s goal for this year is to increase engagement with students’ families. “My teachers gave me the support I needed to become successful and that’s what I want to pass on to my students. I want them to embrace the gifts they have.”