Portland Public Schools Hosts Annual Seal of Biliteracy Awards Ceremony

Carlos Gomez, Director of Language Development, Portland Public Schools

(Pictured: Carlos Gomez, Director of Language Development, Portland Public Schools)

“Many years ago my grandmother said, ‘Learning a new language is like having another little house in which you can take refuge and escape from the world to give yourself your own time. Learn today so that tomorrow you can enjoy yourself freely without any issues.’ I did not understand this wisdom at that time. I was a girl, I did not know what was coming soon. However, her wise words were never erased from my mind and heart, now more than ever I understand what she said because the process of learning a new language was difficult but after the storm, I am freely enjoying the rainbow.” These are the words of Portland High School student and Maine Seal of Biliteracy recipient, Estrella Alemán Delgado.

Portland Public Schools (PPS) hosted its annual Seal of Biliteracy Awards ceremony on May 17, 2023. There were 66 Seal recipients this year from Portland High School, Deering High School, and Casco Bay High School – 40 percent more than last year and the most since the award began in 2018.

The Seal of Biliteracy is an award that recognizes graduating students for having a high degree of skill in English and one or more additional languages. Nearly all states in the United States now offer this award, celebrating multilingualism and giving students an edge for their post-secondary studies and/or future careers. 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. The Seal of Biliteracy also honors the dedication of world language students who pursue higher-level language courses. Highlighting the value of multilingualism, this award becomes part of a student’s transcript and gives students an edge for their post-secondary studies and/or future careers. Students who earn the Seal of Biliteracy may be eligible to earn up to 8 college credits at certain Maine Universities and Colleges based on their demonstrated proficiency levels in their target language(s).

Mayinga Mukinayi, Seal of Biliteracy Recipient
Mayinga Mukinayi, Seal of Biliteracy Recipient

Several students shared their language-learning experiences during the ceremony. Student speaker and Seal recipient, Mayinga Mukinayi spoke about the challenges and rewards she experienced as a multilingual learner. “My experience of learning English was very challenging because when I arrived in the United States, I didn’t know anything about English other than ‘Good Morning’ and counting a few numbers. It was hard, but I kept wanting to learn. I read English books and listened to English music without understanding. Sometimes I even slept with headphones on- putting words in English so that my mind could listen. Even if I was sleeping, my brain would be awake to listen. Now that I know English, although I’m still learning, I can communicate, and with my Portuguese and French I can help people who are in the same place as me when I arrived in the United States.  I help in the classrooms, as a teacher’s assistant. I even helped out in the summer as a TA in a multilingual classroom for middle school students. I still help even outside of school, translating in churches or even on the streets, when someone asks me for help.”

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. The variety of languages represented in the ceremony gave a sense of the breadth of the language diversity at the Portland Public Schools, where one-third of students come from homes where languages other than English are spoken – a total of more than 50 languages.

Melea Nalli, PPS’s interim Co-superintendent and Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning spoke extensively about the benefits of multilingualism. 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. She noted that proficiency in two or more languages enhances students’ ability to succeed academically and in the workplace.  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. 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.

Seal of Biliteracy Recipients from Portland Public High Schools
Seal of Biliteracy Recipients from Portland Public High Schools

If you are interested in developing a Seal of Biliteracy Program in your school, please reach out to Rebecca Carey, ESOL Consultant at rebecca.carey@maine.gov or visit Maine Seal of Biliteracy.