Biliterate students earn state honor

6/15/2016 | TACOMA, Washington

Itzel Valdez and Jazmin Serrano move between two cultures and languages like most people move from one room to the next—effortlessly.

Both young women graduated from Oakland High School this month, and their diplomas bear a special emblem: the Washington State Seal of Biliteracy, awarded to students who demonstrate a high level of proficiency in both English and one or more world languages.

.Jazmin Serrano, left, and Itzel Valdez have earned a special seal on their high
school diplomas with high reading and speaking ability in two languages.

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“Bilingual students have a much more global perspective,” said Adrienne Dale, assistant director for secondary schools at Tacoma Public Schools. The seal is only awarded after students complete a four-year language arts curriculum, and pass an extensive testing regimen in both languages.

Colleges and employers covet applicants with language skills, Dale added, especially in the increasingly interconnected and international global economy. Eleven graduating seniors this year earned the prestigious Seal for their diplomas; three from Oakland, six students from Lincoln High School and two from the Science and Math Institute.

Itzel’s parents came to the United States from Mexico City before she was born, and she became their interpreter at an early age. She wants to go to the Washington State Police Academy after she graduates, and pursue a career in law enforcement.

“I’ve always liked helping people,” she said. “I really only speak Spanish at home, to my parents, and I try to speak English to them too so they’ll learn it.”

Jazmin’s parents came to the United States from Oaxaca when she was eight, and as a little girl new to America she didn’t speak any English at all. But like Itzel, she quickly became the family interpreter.

“Even now, I go to appointments with my mom, and I see people having to wait for an interpreter, so I’m used to just doing it,” she said. “Or at the grocery store, I see someone who only speaks Spanish, and I’m used to stepping in and helping them out.”

Jazmin wants to study nursing; she’s applied to Clover Park Technical College.

“I took care of my Grandma since the time I was 13,” she said. “I’ve always liked helping people out, and with my grandmother’s care I got interested in all the medical technology.”

Being multilingual, Dale noted, makes it easier for a young adult to appreciate and embrace cultures other than their own.

Itzel grew up speaking both English and Spanish, and has also taken some French, although she isn’t pursuing a third language any further—high proficiency in two, she said, is enough. She does however hope her future law enforcement career will immerse her in yet another culture.

“I’d like to be a police officer in Hawaii,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to go there.”

Jazmin has a part-time job as a Spanish interpreter—for the Korean Women’s Association.

“I translate business paperwork for them, and public notices,” she said. “And sometimes phone calls. Although sometimes someone will call and I’ll have to go and get one of the Korean ladies, because I don’t speak Korean.”

At least, not yet.