It’s a great thing to put on my resume, but the value of it lies in the future generations, for the kids that will receive it. Because those kids will have a validation that says your language matters, your culture matters… and the value surpasses its medal or title. It’s the fact that there is honor for the student, and that their background is an asset instead of a deficit.
Marina Yousef, junior at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, tells the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition why her parents made the decision to leave Egypt and move to the United States when she was seven years old. “My parents were very well-off there, but they recognized that they had three girls, and the best [our] life could be there was very limited.” And so her family made Tennessee their home, and her parents worked diligently to support the future mobility of their daughters.
Upon starting elementary school in Nashville, Marina struggled as a native Arabic speaker. She recalls her family encouraged her to stop speaking Arabic in their home. “I needed to adapt and take on the English language. That meant success, and that meant affirming my parents’ sacrifice.” Marina says that this movement away from her linguistic roots was also affirmed by her school systems’ teachers and administrators.
But as she grew older, something changed. “I started to thirst for…who I am.” As she began to grapple with her American and her Egyptian cultural identities, her high school provided her the opportunity to receive a graduation award that celebrated her proficiency in both English and Arabic: the Volunteer State Seal of Biliteracy (VSSB). The VSSB collaborates with districts across Tennessee to provide students with the Seal on their high school diploma, signaling 21st century workforce skills and diverse linguistic and cultural appreciation.
The Volunteer State Seal of Biliteracy works collaboratively with schools and districts across Tennessee to provide program support and materials in order to offer the award to every eligible student.In addition to leveraging existing partnerships and resources to ensure implementation statewide, the organization is working with the Tennessee Language Center to develop non-English language assessments for high schools. These tests will determine student proficiency in languages that are not currently offered through existing testing programs, such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate.
Why Should Schools Participate in the Seal of Biliteracy?
1. Labor Market Returns: Investing in the Seal in your school will equip graduates with demonstrable language skills that will make them more competitive in the Tennessee labor market. Over the past two decades, Tennessee has seen a seismic demographic shift in population, with migrant populations, English learners, and non-English language background students increasing across communities and schools. Coupled with this growth, online job postings for bilingual workers nearly tripled between 2010 and 2016, and postings doubled for candidates who speak Spanish.
A Seal of Biliteracy makes Tennessee graduates more competitive in the workforce, both after high school but also once they’ve earned a post-secondary degree. Job postings for bilingual candidates can span from insurance carriers to credit intermediaries. These occupations require some form of a postsecondary credential, and offer gainful salaries. When a Tennessean receives the Seal of Biliteracy, they are better equipped to meet the state’s workforce needs and are prepared to transition into gainful employment upon high school or college graduation.
2. Honor and Recognition for Each Student’s Linguistic and Cultural Heritage: The Seal of Biliteracy also provides schools and districts the opportunity to celebrate the cultural and linguistic heritage of their students.Tennessee’s students who speak a language other than English hail from many countries. Nearly 80 percent speak Spanish; 6.8 percent speak Arabic, 1.2 percent speak Kurdish or Somali, and 1.1 percent speak Vietnamese. In addition to the linguistic diversity amongst Tennessee’s students, 82 percent of non-English background students are native-born — signaling a higher level of students proficient in two languages. When schools offer the Seal of Biliteracy to their graduates, they signal to their students, faculty and community that linguistic diversity is valued and celebrated. The work of the Volunteer Seal State of Biliteracy celebrates the achievements of native English speakers as well, offering them an opportunity to demonstrate proficiency by passing a language assessment such as AP or IB. For languages that do not currently have an affordable and accessible assessment (i.e. Kurdish, Somali, and others), the award program is working with Tennessee Language Center (TLC) to craft assessments that schools can use to assess proficiency in these languages. The Seal of Biliteracy is designed to celebrate and recognize any student, regardless of background, that can demonstrate proficiency in two or more languages, while also providing them with a recognizable honor that is attractive to employers and post-secondary institutions alike.
- Contact the Volunteer State Seal of Biliteracy (firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit www.volstateseal.org to learn more about the program, requirements, expansion options, and existing district “best practices” for providing the Seal
- Collaborate with the VSSB and other K-12 schools in your district to develop long-term plans that set up students for bilingual proficiency in earlier grades
- Survey local industries and other organizations to learn about the utility and need for bilingual candidates