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Record number of EPHS students obtain biliteracy recognition from state

Natalia Gomez and Dominique Byrnes inform a student about their test results
Sam Britten, Marketing & Publishing Specialist

Roughly 80 Elmwood Park High School students received recognition from the State of Illinois for being proficient in English and another language. More than 40 students received the State Seal of Biliteracy while more than 30 earned the State Commendation Toward Biliteracy. To earn the honor, students either earned a high score during state testing or on an Advanced Placement exam in both English and another language. 

“Here in 401, we strive to establish a culture in our school community that recognizes and values diverse languages and cultures,” said EPCUSD 401 Bilingual Director Natalia Gomez. “Therefore, it is essential that we promote the Illinois State Seal of Biliteracy and tap into students' linguistic repertoire to reach their full potential.”

When students graduate, their diplomas will feature the seal or commendation, demonstrating their biliterate skills which they could use when applying for colleges or work. 

“Future employers would be more than impressed to see that designation,” says District Language Coach Dominique Byrnes. “And depending on which college or university you attend, there are different perks.” 

Student Roy Zuniga with her seal of biliteracy

Senior Roy Zuniga holds his certificate

“A lot of the time people can say they can speak another language, but there’s no proof to really do that besides just saying it,” said senior Roy Zuniga, who obtained the seal in Spanish. “And I think having [the seal or commendation] is kind of more apparent.”

Previously, Spanish and Polish were the only languages that students could test for. This year, the program was expanded to include Arabic, Tagalog, Ukrainian and Italian. Additionally, the seal was the only recognition awarded in the past; this is the first year the commendation is also given. 

“I knew I could speak Arabic but I didn’t know I could read it and write it to the level that [the state] wanted,” said senior Rayan Lahlou-nabil, who received the seal in Arabic. 

“It’s nice to see that I got recognized for being biliterate,” said senior Cassandra Chowaniak, who obtained the seal in Polish.

The program is inspiring some students to look at expanding their linguistic abilities beyond the two languages they already know. 

“To get the seal makes me think that I could learn more languages too,” said junior Kathleen Castillo, who obtained the seal in Tagolog. 

Student Kathleen Castillo with her seal of biliteracy

Junior Kathleen Castillo holds her certificate

Over the past three years, roughly 50 students obtained the seal, just a few more than this year alone. Those who obtained either of the honors will be recognized at the Cultural Heritage Celebration on May 9 at the high school. Click here for more information about that event.  

Any non-seniors who took the test and did not score high enough to obtain the seal or commendation may try again next year.

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