The district’s sixth annual Seal of Biliteracy Ceremony was held on May 17 at Deering High School. As Maine’s largest and most diverse school district, the Portland Public Schools is very proud of initiating this award. There were 66 Seal recipients this year – 40 percent more than last year and the most since the award began.
The Board of Public Education established the Seal of Biliteracy in the fall of 2017 to promote the attainment of functional proficiency in one or more languages in addition to English. The first awards were presented to students in May 2018.
The Portland Public Schools was the first school district in Maine to present those awards. The Maine Department of Education announced that the state also would award students a Seal of Biliteracy, but that came later in 2018.
The Board established this award for a variety of reasons. The Portland Public Schools is committed to preparing students to participate and succeed in a diverse and ever-changing world. PPS does that by providing every student with a rigorous learning program that leads to college and career readiness.
Proficiency in two or more languages enhances students’ ability to succeed. Language learning makes important contributions to students’ cognitive development, mental flexibility, memory and concentration. Research shows that language learning correlates with higher academic achievement on standardized test measures.
The ability to speak multiple languages is an undeniable asset in today’s increasingly global world. Learning another language transcends the confines of one’s own background and improves and expands one’s understanding of the world, diverse cultures, and perspectives.
Proficiency in speaking, listening, reading and writing in multiple languages is increasingly important for effective participation in global political, social, and economic contexts.
Additionally, demand for employees who are proficient in more than one language is growing in the United States and throughout the world. Multiple language proficiency opens the door to a wide variety of career opportunities.
The awards go to graduating seniors. In addition to having more Seal recipients than ever this year, one student received the seal for proficiency in a recording-breaking six languages.
Also, three of the 66 recipients this year are staff members. This is the first time the Seal of Biliteracy is being awarded to Portland Public Schools staff in recognition for their language proficiency. These staff members are role models for students!
The following are the 16 languages in which this year’s recipients have achieved proficiency: Arabic, Bengali, Dari, French, German, Hindi, Latin, Lingala, Kinyarwanda, Pashto, Portuguese, Serbian, Somali, Spanish, Tajik and Urdu.
These languages give a sense of the breadth of the language diversity at the Portland Public Schools. About one-third of our students come from homes where languages other than English are spoken – a total of more than 50 languages.
The Portland Public Schools is the most linguistically diverse school district north of Boston and perhaps throughout Northern New England. Many of the languages spoken are identified by the U.S. State Department as critical languages because they are essential to our nation’s diplomatic relations, national security, and economic development.
The Seal of Biliteracy underscores for younger students, parents and community members who speak a language other than English at home that it’s important to maintain heritage languages.