Filipino students in Hawaii honored with seal of biliteracy

HAWAII —  Students are encouraged and rewarded for being proficient in more than one language, and Filipino students are benefiting from it.

In 2015, the state of Hawaii’s Department of Education created a multilingualism policy and the seal of biliteracy, where students could be recognized and honored for being bilingual or multilingual.

This 2019 is Farrington high school’s first year of implementing the program.

When English teacher Norman Sales heard about the seal of biliteracy, he volunteered to take on the role to spearhead the pilot implementation.

“We have so many students who are Filipinos here. We have so many students who are, who can speak Tagalog and Ilocano and the Tagalog and Ilocano tests were only available this spring so it’s a perfect moment for us to start this program here at Farrington High School.”

About 60% of Farrington HS consists of Filipino students and many of them are immigrants.

“Many of our students moved here from the Philippines or other islands and countries and multilingualism here is one of the strengths of our school, of our community and it’s very fitting to recognize that our students have that ability, that capacity to speak more than one language because it is, it deserves an honor as much as we honor science or mathematics or academics because our students struggle with multilingualism.”

Sales admits that there have been cases of students believing their heritage languages held them back.

“They think that they should abandon their heritage languages before they come into school but this shows that the Seal of Biliteracy at Farrington High School shows that there is a space for ethnic and linguistic identity in the schools and not just, it shouldn’t be left at home.”

The students went through a rigorous process to earn the seal of biliteracy. In order to qualify, students need to be fluent in either English or native Hawaiian as well as another language. They also need to have at least a 3.0 in their English classes, an overall gpa of at least 3.0 and score at least a 5 or higher in their language assessments.

Students have begun to speak out and appreciate the importance of the recognition.

Sales hopes that other Philippine languages will be offered in the future so that more students will have the opportunity to receive this honor and be recognized for their multilingualism. Students who are on track to receive the seal of biliteracy will be recognized at graduation as well.

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