How a Seal of Biliteracy program engaged the family, community and won the Foreign Language Film Festival

Northeast high school in Kansas City Missouri starts the Missouri Seal of Biliteracy group in 2020. Within a short 2 years, the group leveraged the Seal of Biliteracy program to connect with students’ families, engaging with community, awarded a Poder en Salud grant and won 2nd place at the Foreign Language Film festival. How do they do that?

Carmen Truax-Toledo is the amazing Seal of Biliteracy sponsor at Northeast high school. She is the recipient of the Great Kansas City Librarian Award 2021-22. At Kansas City Public Schools District, a teacher becomes a sponsor when he or she “sponsors” extracurricular activities. Carmen is the media specialist at her school, and her passion to help her students makes her a champion for the school’s Seal of Biliteracy program.

Northeast High school is a diverse high school; besides Spanish, students speak 30 different languages including Somali, Arabic, Swahilli, and Vietnamese. Carmen identified students in her high school who could be potential recipients of the Missouri Seal of Biliteracy. She invites them to join the school’s Seal of Biliteracy group and asked these students to “sign an agreement” that these students will do their best to pass the exam in a different language than English and complete the volunteer hours for the sociocultural component. The time commitment is important, it ensure students allocate their time to practice the second language using the four skills: reading, writing, listening, and speaking so they can pass the assessment.

Passing the tests is just the first step to earning the Missouri Seal of Biliteracy. After all, the Seal of Biliteracy is not just an assessment, it’s a celebration. In Missouri, Students must demonstrate high levels of sociocultural competence as it relates to English and the LOTE to earn the Seal of Biliteracy. This is where the family and community engagement come in. Carmen and the school culture committee organized “Culture Days” and invited different groups of families to school lunch. During the luncheon, they serve food from the represented culture. Parents and students share their heritage and customs from their culture. Sometimes they shared stories from their home countries, or they celebrated their culture through music and dance. To support the diversity of the community, students perform in their native language and work with paraeducators from different languages and translate the celebration into various languages in the community.

To help her students to demonstrate high levels of sociocultural competence, Carmen looks into community events where her students can use their language skills and participate. She sent her potential Seal of Biliteracy recipients to Lilian Schumacher elementary school at their World Culture Day to help younger students understand the benefits of being bilingual. Her students submitted a Spanish video to UCM Foreign Film Festival and won 2nd place at the BEST Spanish Heritage Speaker Film. When a national non-profit announced a grant competition, her Latinx students from the Seal of Biliteracy team applied to produce a video and six digital posters for the campaign “Keep protecting yourself, your classmates, and your family from the COVID-19 virus.” and won the Poder en Salud grant. Students also participated at the Great Kansas City Writing Project Storytelling Festival and shared the joy of bilingual storytelling. Students became school ambassadors for the Seven Day of Kindness. Some of them are the winners of the most voted relevant kindness message and creative design for a kindness bottom.

When we asked Carmen what’s the secret of her success, she paused, and reflected: “Seal of Biliteracy is not an exam, it is a program, and you have to grow it. Form a Seal of Biliteracy team in your school and recruit students who speak a different language than English to the team at their Freshman, Sophomore, Junior or Senior year. The earlier the better.”

About the Author:

Photo: Arthur Chou

Arthur Chou

Managing Director, SealofBiliteracy.org