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Westford Academy language program gives opportunities to heritage speakers


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WESTFORD — A Massachusetts program allows students to certify their expertise in a second language. 

The Seal of Biliteracy Program at Westford Academy for multilingual students not only includes the world languages offered at WA classes, but a student’s native language.  

What is the Seal of Biliteracy?

The program has been adopted by over 40 states and recognizes high school students with functional and academic levels of proficiency in English and a partner language of their choice. The program aims “to help students recognize the value of their academic success and see the tangible benefits of being bilingual.” 

“For many years the importance of being multilingual has not been appreciated in the United States. The Seal of Biliteracy, the national push as well as the state push, is an effort to basically recognize the great importance of producing students who are educated [in speaking] multiple languages,” WA Spanish teacher Stephanie Grabowski-Devlin told WestfordCAT. 

She added that there are “cultural benefits that provide our students [with] being able to speak another language. Learning about people from other cultures is something that will create more empathy [and] more ability to work with and relate to people in other countries.”

To qualify for a seal, students must receive an MCAS score of at least 472 in Language Arts to satisfy the English language requirement and score at the Intermediate High level of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language exams. 

ACTFL is an organization that aims to “[expand] cultural richness and diversity at all levels of education” and provide resources to language educators and learners.

Westford Academy’s involvement  

Westford Academy has participated in this program since the spring of 2019 “to promote multilingual pride and encourage families to help their children maintain fluency in their home languages” according to the May 8 School Committee Presentation.

As the curriculum coordinator for World Languages, Grabowski-Devlin recruits seniors to take the qualifying language exams every October. The exams begin in January and finish in mid-April. 

The Seal of Biliteracy is awarded to qualified WA seniors at graduation as a printed seal on their diplomas and a wearable honor cord. It is also noted on their official transcript for college and future employment opportunities. 

So far, students have received the Seal in 12 languages: Arabic, French, German, Hebrew, Hungarian, Japanese, Latin, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Tamil.

Heritage speakers

The Massachusetts Seal of Biliteracy recognizes students whose first language is a language other than English. These “heritage speakers” are encouraged to continue fostering their skills in this language.

Westford Academy student Alice Guo was awarded the Seal with Distinction for both Spanish and Mandarin. She felt that the program was “an amazing way for me to feel celebrated [for] speaking these languages and taking them seriously.”

Mandarin is Guo’s first language, qualifying her as a heritage speaker. 

“I think the seal is a really good encouragement for people to keep speaking their home languages if they have one. I know a lot of people eventually just stop speaking it and start speaking English all the time.” Guo said. “I think it’s really nice to hold onto this piece of [my] culture, this connection with [my] parents and grandparents.” 

Westford Academy student Emily Fu’s first language is also Mandarin, and she felt the Seal program motivated her “to take Mandarin more seriously.” She was awarded the Seal with Distinction for Latin and Mandarin.

“As a child of first-generation immigrants, my parents feel more connected to their Chinese culture…this was an opportunity to learn more about Chinese culture,” Fu said.

She added that she feels “learning more about other cultures, perspectives and ways people think make you more open as a human in general.”

Fu’s statement rings true for Grabowski-Devlin’s beliefs regarding the Biliteracy Program and the general importance of learning a second language. 

“For me the importance [of the Biliteracy program] is…to help recognize and honor the cultures and languages that we have here in Westford [and] Massachusetts. And that we encourage our students to develop language skills that will make them better prepared global citizens,” Grabowski-Devlin said.

This article was last updated on July 12, 2023

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Melanie Duronio
Melanie Duronio
Melanie Duronio is a student at Mount Holyoke College studying English. In her spare time, Melanie enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with her friends and family.

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