Jose Ramirez spotted the language barrier while working a shift at Walmart. There, he helped a Spanish-speaking couple who didn’t know English complete their shopping experience.
“A lot of people need help,” the Sequim High senior said.
Ramirez was one of two-dozen SHS students who earned passing marks in the Washington State Seal of Biliteracy, a program established in 2014 with the goal to recognize high school graduates who have attained an intermediate to mid proficiency in English and one or more world languages.
Ramirez, whose family speaks Spanish at home, earned strong scores (nines) on the test, one that took a couple of hours to complete.
“Writing is the hardest part; I don’t really focus on writing,” he said.
Ramirez, who is headed to Seattle Pacific University in the fall to study criminal justice, said he wants to help communicate with citizens who may struggle with language barriers.
“I want to help out the Hispanic community; there are a lot of people who don’t know English,” he said.
Anita Benitez, who teaches five periods of Spanish at SHS, said this year’s student group in particular was impressive, with a number of students earning nines (out of 12) on the test, and those scores possibly being higher with more in-person learning in the past couple of years.
“This is an exceptional group; they only really had one year of Spanish [thanks to COVID],” Benitez said.
In addition to providing students communication skills, the biliteracy tests help students stand out when applying for colleges/universities and for jobs, she said.
Four Sequim High students received both Washington State Seals and Global Seals of Biliteracy for achieving at least working literacy in two or more languages: Ramirez (Spanish English), Camphor Fukushima (Japanese English) Heidi Salgado (Spanish English) and Kenia Zelada (Spanish English).
Another 17 SHS students earned Seals of Biliteracy this year, for achieving at least functional literacy in two or more languages, each in Spanish-English. They include: Adrian Brown, Abigail Carlson, Cassidy Crecelius, Lilia Fili, Rafael Flores, Marta Garcia, Cristian Gonzales, Samantha Gonzalez, Hannah Hampton, Kristian Mingoy, Malory Morey, Madelyn Pickens, Sydnee Price, Alexandria Schmadeke, Aidyn Shingleton, Lauren Sundin and Isabella Williams.
Sonja Miller, who teaches Spanish along with American Sign Language at SHS, said the school started offering the biliteracy test as a pilot program in about 2014, graduating SHS’s first two students earning bilingual honors in 2016.
Miller said Sequim High has been seeing about 20 graduates a year since 2019 — save for the COVID-hampered school year of 2020-2021, when testing proved too difficult — and has seen students earning high school credits in Spanish, French, Japanese, Mandarin, Russian, Tagalog, Portuguese and German.
Benitez said Sequim students have a challenge at times because of limits in time (45-minute periods) and access to other Spanish speakers.
“We don’t hear [Spanish] enough out in public. I can’t send them anywhere to practice,” Benitez said.
Williams, a junior who is planning to study mechanical engineering at a four-year university in the future, said she wanted to take part in a biliteracy program because she wants to travel for her job and such skills would be a big asset.
“Speaking another language would be very useful; I can communicate with my peers,” she said.
Williams, whose mother is Mexican, heard plenty of Spanish at home but had to sharpen her skills for her tests.
“[Spanish] accents are the things that kill me,” Williams joked. “Learning that improved my writing so much.”
She said she would recommend to other students to work toward a Seal of Biliteracy.
“Go for it; it opens a lot of doors, especially if you like to travel.”