Durga Khadka and Noelle Lanzafame were two of 49 Liverpool High School seniors who will receive the New York State Seal of Biliteracy on their diplomas. Khadka is proficient in French as well as Nepali, which her family speaks at home, and Lanzafame showed proficiency in Spanish. (Photo by Ashley M. Casey/2018)
As graduation grows near, Liverpool High School honored dozens of seniors June 7 for their achievements in world languages. Forty-nine students earned the Seal of Biliteracy for proving their proficiency in English and at least one other language. Among the world languages studied were Vietnamese, Spanish, Urdu and Bosnian.
Each student had to create a portfolio based around a theme and defend the project to a panel of teachers from various school districts. Defense Day took place May 22.
“It’s absolutely amazing. Our students are so talented,” said Harmony Balintfy, one of the principals at LHS and head of world languages and special education at the high school. “The fact that they’re going into a world where they can communicate and articulate not only in English but in another language … you feel so proud of them and the work that they’ve put in.”
The class of 2018 is the first batch of LHS seniors to complete the program. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law in 2012 making New York the second state to implement the Seal of Biliteracy. The New York State Board of Regents officially adopted the program in 2016. The Seal of Biliteracy has been adopted by 31 states and Washington, D.C.
Executive Director for Curriculum Steven Garraffo said programs like the Seal of Biliteracy are “positioning our students” for success.
“I sat in on a presentation where a student presented in French. You would have thought she was from Paris,” Garraffo said. “When she spoke English, she sounded like she was born and raised here in Syracuse. Then she spoke in Bosnian, her home language.”
The Seal of Biliteracy program is also open to English language learners (ELL students) and English as a new language learners (ENL). These students must demonstrate proficiency in English and one other language, often their home language.
“[For] our ELL students and our triliteracy students, their primary language at home is the target language,” Balintfy said.
Balintfy said two of the seniors in the program arrived in the United States in August and October 2017 respectively.
Ian Torres, whose family moved from Puerto Rico to New York state shortly before Hurricane Maria hit, is one of those students. English teacher Patrick Gilchriest encouraged Torres to join the biliteracy program, but Torres demurred, saying his English wasn’t good enough.
“His first essay was the college essay, and it was about how hard it was to move here. I was really moved,” Gilchriest said. “Something clicked.”
Gilchriest submitted Torres’ work to Balintfy and the teachers in charge of the program, and they were impressed. Another teacher, Irma Sandoval, bonded with Torres over their shared Latino heritage. With the support of his teachers, Torres felt emboldened to take on the biliteracy challenge.
Torres presented to the biliteracy panel on the topic of aviation, and he has been accepted to the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.
“He’s such a cool guy,” Gilchriest said of his student. “The pleasure was all mine.”
Durga Khadka moved with her family from Nepal to the United States when she was 9 years old. While she is also fluent in French, Khadka presented in Nepali about religious and cultural assimilation.
“I speak mine at home with my parents, so it was already given to me,” she said of her fluency in Nepali.
Since Khadkha already knew Nepali and was studying French, and her friend Noelle Lanzafame was studying Spanish, they figured they would give the biliteracy program a try.
“We always loved speaking [foreign] languages. Since we already take these languages in school, [why not?]” said Lanzafame, who focused her project on human trafficking.
Khadka and Lanzafame acknowledged the difficulty of adding another challenge to their already busy senior year schedules.
“The process was like a roller coaster because we had so many other things going on at the same time, but it was rewarding,” Khadka said.
“We lived and breathed these projects for over a month, easily,” Lanzafame said. “Our hard work paid off. … It really didn’t hit us how huge this was until today.”
As for what’s next, Lanzafame is headed for SUNY Oswego in the fall and Khadka will attend Syracuse University. She intends to major in chemistry or another science.
“I’m not sure if I’m going to be continuing French, but it definitely is a part of me,” she said of the third language she has learned. “I’ve taken it for five years.”
Lanzafame is thinking of studying biology or zoology at Oswego.
“I definitely am going to continue with Spanish,” she said.
Khadka said her parents, who do not speak English, are proud of her accomplishments.
“Knowing that I have learned so much and also carried my culture with me has been really special,” she said.
Ashley M. Casey is a reporter for The Baldwinsville Messenger and The Eagle Star-Review. She graduated from Le Moyne College in 2012 and previously worked for the Scotsman Press.