The first language Maira Tureez learned was Urdu, a language native to India and Pakistan.
She began learning English when she was 2 years old. By the time she was 5, she had started picking up some Spanish.
The eighth-grader from Joe Serna Jr. Charter School in Lodi Unified School District was one of many young linguists welcoming the crowd to the 2016 State Seal of Biliteracy and Pathway Awards on May 19. The chorus of welcomes at the three ceremonies held that day came in English, Urdu, Spanish, Korean, American Sign Language, and more.
In all, 412 high school seniors received a Seal of Biliteracy Award. Their diplomas will bear a golden seal. Also recognized were 122 students in grades 3-8 receiving Pathway to Biliteracy Awards. In all, 245 students attended the ceremonies. Families, district administrators, principals, and teachers were also in attendance.
Maira is on the path to mastering three languages, more than enough to receive the golden seal when she graduates high school. She already has seen how speaking Spanish has helped her communicate while assisting with her family’s property management business.
She sees that the seal – and what it represents – will help her achieve her college and career dreams. She is aiming high, setting her sights on Princeton.
Created by state law effective since 2012, the State Seal of Biliteracy program recognizes high school graduates who have attained a high level of proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing in English and at least one other language.
The awards were hosted by San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) Language & Literacy. Families and friends joined SJCOE officials there to honor the students. The awards presentation was spread over three back-to-back ceremonies to accommodate all the represented school districts: Escalon Unified, Jefferson Elementary, Manteca Unified, New Hope Elementary, Oak View Union Elementary, Stockton Unified, Lincoln Unified, Linden Unified, Lodi Unified, Ripon Unified and Tracy Unified. Students from the SJCOE’s Venture Academy Family of Schools were also recognized.
“Language is how we communicate with one another, how we learn about each other, and how we learn about our cultures,” San Joaquin County Superintendent of Schools James Mousalimas said to the audience. “I want to commend all our student here today who have learned at least one other language in addition to English. That’s going to serve you well as you go on to college and careers. This is really going to be a huge advantage to you.”
Biliteracy will open doors to success, said Ben Foley, a graduating senior from Lincoln Unified School District’s Lincoln High School. Literate in English and Japanese, he said it could help him reach his career goals.
But learning a language is about more than just something to put on your college application, he said.
“Biliteracy helps open doors to other ideas and the thoughts of other cultures,” he said. “Think about what you can learn from its native speakers, and what biliteracy can do for you.”