Myah Vogt and Matthew Skibiel, recent graduates of Fayette County’s Whitewater High, both earned the state’s new bilteracy seal on their diplomas. The two were among 14 students in the district who demonstrated proficiency in English and a second language.

Making the Grade:

Along with the challenges of mastering a myriad of educational concepts, students today are preparing to enter a workforce with a global perspective. Understanding different cultures and speaking other languages can be key to their success.

Matthew Skibiel, Myah Vogt and Jennifer St. Martin, recent graduates of Whitewater High in Fayetteville, are part of a growing number of Georgia high school students who are getting an edge on the demands of global citizenship by being among the first to earn the state’s new seal of biliteracy. The Fayette County school district had a total of 14 students, including four from McIntosh High and seven from Starr’s Mill, who earned the designation that certifies their competency in more than one language.

Initiated last fall, the program is designed to encourage students to pursue studies in foreign languages, while at the same time indicating to colleges and employers that students have demonstrated a mastery of a second language.

“The seal is a nice incentive to carry on in language studies,” explained Karen Dean, chair of the World Language department and a Spanish teacher at Whitewater. “We do think this will increase our numbers in higher level language classes so students can earn it. We’ve had a lot of students say they’ll take Spanish III or (Advanced Placement) just to get the seal.”

Increasing the enrollment numbers in advanced foreign language courses is a struggle, admits Dean. “It’s hard to keep students going, especially now that the requirement of most four-year universities is that they only have two years of a language We have a significantly higher enrollment at level two than at level three. But if you take just the required two years, you won’t know very much when you’re done.”

To earn the seal, which is only offered to graduating seniors, students must demonstrate proficiency in both English and a second language.

“To start, they have to have a high average in their required English language arts classes, as well as an overall B in their language classes,” said Dean. “They also have to take a test to show proficiency in another language, and that could be the AP language test. For instance, Matthew earned the seal in both French and Spanish, since he took the AP tests and passed.”

While many students begin their second-language studies in middle or high school, others come into the system already fluent, said Dean, and they, too, can earn the distinction.

“Someone who grew up speaking Spanish in the home, for instance, can also work toward a seal,” she said. “It’s another indicator to institutions of higher learning and future employers that you are proficient.”

Skibiel has been focused on language studies since middle school.

“Since my first Spanish class in eighth grade, I’ve loved languages,” he said. “My freshman year in high school, I added French, and in sophomore year I also added Latin. I finished with four years of French and five of Spanish.”

Adding two biliteracy seals to his diploma is a perk that will help him in college, he said.

“I’m going to Fordham next year to study international studies or possibly international or immigration law,” he said. “I want to take as many languages as I can, and not just because I like to order in Spanish when I’m in a restaurant.”

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