SCOE Awards Students with Seal of Multilingual Proficiency
On Nov. 2, students from all over the county, dressed in their best, gathered at the Gallo Center.
No, it wasn’t an early winter prom. These young people came to receive Stanislaus County Office of Education’s (SCOE) Seal of Multilingual Proficiency, a prestigious award that will be placed on their transcripts and diplomas and proclaim to the world that they are ready for college or the workforce.
Nine districts participate in the Seal program, and the program depends on hundreds of volunteers from the schools and the community. Students are required to submit an autobiography in English, write an on-demand essay in their target language, and then be interviewed in both languages. For each of the written pieces, dozens of teachers come together to spend a day reading and assessing the students’ work. Each paper must receive a passing score on a rigorous rubric that expects students to be able to respond appropriately to the prompt while at the same time using language expertly.
The Seal Interview Day is the program’s main event. On this day, this year Oct. 15, more than 540 students descended on the Petersen Event Center in three waves. Inside, more than 180 volunteers, seated in pairs, interviewed students to assess their oral language ability in English and one of 15 target languages. It’s a long day, but interviewers often leave enthusiastic and energized. “These young people really give you hope for the future,” said Stanislaus County Superintendent of Schools, Tom Changnon. Amy Zchaber, SCOE’s new arts consultant, agreed. “I was so impressed with the student participants during the interview portion of the SEAL event. The students demonstrated not just a fluency in both a native language and a second language; they also displayed dedication, passion, and enthusiasm for life and learning. If this is a sampling of future leaders, our world is in very capable hands.”
The vast majority of students seek the Seal in Spanish, but this year we also had students seeking to demonstrate proficiency in Arabic, Assyrian, Cantonese, Dari, Farsi, French, Hindi, Japanese, Pashto, Punjabi, Russian, Tagalog, Turkish and Vietnamese. Finding people who are able to expertly assess both written and oral language in all of these languages can be very challenging. “Schools are supposed to find the assessors for each of the languages their students speak, but they often have difficulty in finding someone,” said Elvira Ruiz, who provides administrative support to the program. “We are always looking for assessors. We’ve even had to skype in assessors from other states and countries before.”
This year more than 1,100 students started the process, but only 303 made it all the way through the rigorous process to actually obtain the Seal. Four students, among 132 who received nearly perfect scores, were chosen to speak at the event to share their stories of what being multilingual means to them. Joel Valdovinos Miranda, who moved here from Mexico only three years ago, summed it up this way: “Speaking more than one language has allowed me to understand the cultures that shaped my identity and helped me to assimilate to my new home. I am more independent because I know how to relate to people in more than one country.”
These multilingual young people are a great asset to our increasingly global businesses and economy. As Carmen Morad, Seal volunteer and the Public Relations chair for the Assyrian American Civic Club of Turlock and chair of the Assyrian Wellness Collaborative, put it, “the Seal of Multilingual Proficiency is an affirmation of instilling values in our youth to become global citizens.”
To support or volunteer for the Seal program, please call 209.238.1301.
By Debra Boggs, Director of Literacy, Stanislaus County Office of Education