A piece of brown paper torn to reveal the word bilingual, biliteracy.

A biliteracy program is helping language-motivated students shine

The Global Seal of Biliteracy is awarded to students who demonstrate proficiency in two or more languages

Keylin González lives in Tecate, Mexico, and like many young ladies her age, she’s trying to stand out in a sea of students. She turned to language as a way to shine. González is part of the inaugural class receiving the Global Seal of Biliteracy in Baja, California, which recognizes dual-language proficiency.

“I felt very important and it is very valuable since I feel I can function in both languages,” said González.

The Global Seal of Biliteracy is awarded to students who demonstrate proficiency in speaking, listening, reading, and writing in two or more languages. For González, her knowledge of Spanish and English earned her the credential, an opportunity that was offered through a binational pilot program.

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The pilot program operates in Baja California and is possible because of the Binational Migrant Education Program, which is part of The Secretary of Public Education of Baja California. This allows the Global Seal of Biliteracy to recognize students that have earned their credential in Baja California. The pilot is offered at the secondary level and will likely expand into primary schools and high schools as it grows.

“The Global Seal of Biliteracy offers many benefits to students,” added González. She says it will help with her future goals, “to have a good position at work and a better economy in the future.”

Over the next two years, more than 85,000 students like González will benefit from the pilot program and those in the final year of middle school will have the opportunity to earn the Global Seal of Biliteracy.

“The Global Seal of Biliteracy is proud of our Baja California Global Seal recipients. Our team is thrilled to provide them with language credentials that document their bilingualism,” said Linda Egnatz, Global Seal of Biliteracy Executive Director. “We are excited about our ongoing collaboration with our partners to empower students.”

The pilot program also fills a unique gap for Baja students. More than 50,000 students in grades K-9 were born in the United States. Educators in this region are tasked with teaching English to students whose heritage language is Spanish, in addition to educating United States-born students who may only speak English.

To be formally recognized as fluent in more than one language allows students to expand their educational horizons and ultimately compete in an increasingly globalized world, according to program leaders. The recognition also benefits students because employers and universities are in search of bilingual candidates in an effort to honor cultural and linguistic diversity.

“The opportunity to recognize students’ language skills with the Baja Seal of Biliteracy and Global Seal of Biliteracy is such a wonderful opportunity for the students, their families, and their communities,” said Molly Fisher, Education Consultant at the Center for U.S.- Mexican Studies at the University of California San Diego (UCSD).

The Center for U.S.- Mexican Studies at UCSD has been working with the Binational Migrant Education Program since 2018 to establish this binational pilot program.

“The Baja Seal of Biliteracy is a great commitment for The Secretary of Public Education of Baja California because it’s the first English program in middle school that recognizes language skills in both Spanish and English in Baja California,” said Yara Amparo López, Regional Coordinator of the Binational Program of Migrant Education.

Although Mexico’s public education system has offered English for many years, a recent national study carried out by Mexicanos Primero in 11 Mexican cities found that 97 percent of students did not reach the level of English established by the Ministry of Education to graduate from lower secondary school.

This pilot, which includes additional teacher support, has the potential to change these statistics and enhance student learning. Through the Inter-American Partnership for Education (IAPE), a partnership between the Rassias Center for World Languages and Cultures at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and Educando by Worldfund, English-language education programs have operated in Mexico since 2007 and were chosen to be the implementing partners to provide additional teacher training and support in the Seal of Biliteracy pilot.

“It not only honors the language and cultural diversity of the community, but it also provides employers and academic institutions with a method of identifying people with multi-literacy skills,” added Fisher. “This is essential today in our ever-increasing global world where we live and work. Perhaps the most important aspect of the Global Seal is that it has the potential to provide better job and educational opportunities across borders for these young people.”

At an international level, collaborative programs such as Baja California’s language proficiency credentialing program celebrate multilingualism, encourage social integration, and lead to linguistic diversity.

The implementing team, teachers and students are encouraged by González and eager to offer this opportunity to the other students in Baja California. For González it’s a way to recognize her heritage while providing her with an honor that seals her success.

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