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Seal of Biliteracy Awarded to Graduating Seniors

This year, Rondout Valley High School (RVHS) will award the New York State Seal of Biliteracy to 20 graduating seniors. This is an accolade earned by students who demonstrate a high level of proficiency in English and another World Language. 

“I am extremely proud of every single one of our students,” said World Language teacher and Seal of Biliteracy Coordinator Victoria Robertson. “It takes years of dedication to achieve this level of proficiency in a language. I think the Seal of Biliteracy is an extraordinary and essential program which allows our biliterate students to receive the recognition that they deserve.”

To obtain this award, students must earn three points in English and three points in a World Language. There are a variety of ways to achieve this combination through classes, testing, and assessments, but one requirement that all students must complete is a presentation on a research project in their target language. The project can be on any topic of interest to the student but research must be conducted entirely in the selected language. The students then present their project to a panel of educators and undergo an interview entirely in this language. The students' presentations typically last between 10 and 20 minutes, with the interview lasting about 10 additional minutes. Each student is evaluated by two adult speakers of their target language. 

“The topics this year ranged from studying artists and styles of art, to music,  cooking, environmentalism and sustainability, skiing, fishing, and more,” explained Robertson. “Many of the students also chose to produce something as part of their projects,” she added.

For example, Alma Sutherland-Roth made a Tarta de Santiago, Menena Baron sewed a dress, Izzy Kinsella painted a self-portrait, Ellis Picuri performed flamenco music, and Asher Rosen performed on his drum set, to name a few.

This program was first implemented at RVHS during the 2020-2021 school year, with a single candidate in Spanish earning her Seal of Biliteracy. The following year, 11 of 13 candidates were successful in obtaining their seals in Spanish, Bangla, and Ukrainian. This year—only the third year running the program—24 students presented projects. 

“Twenty-two of them scored the level that they needed to earn their World Language points to meet the criteria for the seal,” said Robertson. “Twenty of those students will have the seals added to their diploma this year. The other two are juniors and are on track to earn their seals next year.”

Earning this seal is a months long process. Students interested in participating in the program submit applications by November 1 and are then paired with a mentor for weekly meetings starting in December. During this time, students are doing research, creating writing samples, and preparing for their presentation and interview, which take place at the end of April. The students are also supported by the Seal of Biliteracy Committee at RVHS, which is made up of Robertson , Patricia Abi-Hassan (World Language teacher), Robyn McDonough (English teacher), Rebecca Horwitz (ENL teacher), Alison Klein (school counselor), Tom Martelli (administrator), and Jim Sullivan (community member).

“My teacher, Ms. Robertson, was a big factor in me doing the Seal of Biliteracy,” said recipient Jack Samko. “I was very torn on whether to or not to do it, mostly because of my lack of confidence in being able to execute the project and presentation. She believed in me and gave me confidence to go through with it, and helped me along the way by telling me I could do it.” 

“Presentation week is one of the most rewarding weeks of my teaching career, as I have the honor to watch these students shine,” said Robertson. “It’s truly remarkable to see how much our students grow and learn to be able to get to this point, not only in their language proficiency, but also in their ability to conduct research, their public speaking, their dedication to carrying out goals, and their constant self-reflection.”

Recipient Gabby Ferri said she undertook the challenge because the seal provided her with recognition of her success in learning. “It is tangible evidence of my commitment to learn both in school and independently,” she said. “I feel more confident in my abilities now that I have seen myself succeed in this additional challenge.”

The knowledge, skills, and experience acquired while earning the Seal of Biliteracy is something that students will continue to draw upon after graduation. “I hope to use the seal to help communicate with people in my future job,” said recipient Abby Tuttle. “I also hope to continue to improve my Spanish speaking, and intend to travel a lot to different Spanish speaking countries.” 

The RVHS seniors receiving the Seal of Biliteracy this year are: Menena Baron (Spanish), Emily Bartolone (Spanish), Dylan Bowles (German), Cadence Cardinale (Spanish), Kyle Fallaha (Arabic), Gabriella Ferri (Spanish), Fiona Fraser-Gross (Spanish), Taras Henza (Ukrainian), Mackenzie Heyl (Spanish), Isabel Kinsella (Spanish), Audric Mondini (French), Alexandra Olivieri (Spanish), Seneca Pharmer (Spanish), Marley Pileggi (Spanish), Asher Rosen (Spanish), Jack Samko (Czech), Riley Schoonmaker (French), Aria Sickler Avery (Spanish), Alma Sutherland-Roth (Spanish), and Abigail Tuttle (Spanish).