By SAMANTHA SMYLIE
Just before leaving school for the summer, four rising sixth-grade students at Philip Murray Elementary School, 5335 S. Kenwood Ave., received the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Seal of Biliteracy award, showing they are on the path of being proficient in a second language.
CPS Seal of Biliteracy Award is for fifth- through eighth-grade students who are in their schools’ world language programs. Students are tested in four domains — writing, reading, listening and speaking — to see if students are proficient in a second language. Fifth graders have to test at “Novice Mid,” or conversational level. High school students are able to speak, read and write in two languages or more by their senior year meet Illinois Biliteracy Seal standards.
Bryce Blythe, Jason Pierce and Scarlett Smith, who are Spanish language students, and Jolissa Alvarado, who is studying French, are on their way to receiving the award, having tested at “Novice Mid” or higher.
The students’ goal, however, was not to win the award, even though it is a nice way to acknowledge their hard work. They wanted to learn another language to be able to communicate with people they encounter in their communities or members of their families.
Smith recounted the moment she knew that she wanted to take Spanish classes, “Two years ago, my abuelita’s [grandmother’s] sister came to visit when we were living in LA. She lives in Mexico. She doesn’t know that much English. So, I was trying to communicate with her because I didn’t know her that well. It was tough at the time because I didn’t know that much Spanish, but I was trying to.”
Each student was excited about winning the award and glad that their hard work paid off, Blythe said “I feel like it’s an honor to win,” Blythe said. “In the United States, there is a lot of different language speaking people. To be able to know what they are saying is a blessing. Also, it’s nice to just be able to go to another country and speak that language. It helps you to get different jobs.”
Blythe, Pierce and Smith look forward to being an expert in the language that they are currently learning, but they have their sights on learning another language to be trilingual. Alvardo, who is currently fluent in Spanish, will continue to learn French.
“I’m going to stick with French because I feel like it is better for me since I’ll know three languages,” she said.
According to French teacher Melissa Korpalski, past Murray students have scored well in different parts of the world language assessment. But Blythe, Pierce, Alvardo, and Smith were able to do well in all four domains, reinforcing her strengths as a teacher.
“I’m proud of all the students who qualify for the seal of the biliteracy award. It validates my work as a teacher knowing that I taught them something and they can apply it. My goal is to have all of my students achieve that. I’m happy with any students who do,” she said.
Each student was thankful to their teachers for all the help they received during the school year and could not imagine receiving the award without their guidance.
“I want to thank my teacher for teaching me how to do this stuff. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here right now. The teachers push us to our limits and try to make us do our best and they give us second chances when we do bad,” Blythe said. “When I didn’t do too well on an assignment, Ms. Spector gave me a second chance to do better, and I actually did do better.”