The Power of Multilingualism: Insight from an OSI UELIP

By Junior Associate Lindsey Benjamin 

After teaching seventh and eighth grade writing for two summers in West Philadelphia, I found my passion for urban education. My experience in the classroom not only instilled in me a love for the teaching profession, but also sparked my interest in bigger picture education reform. Therefore, I was extremely excited when my advisor at the University of Maryland recommended the Urban Education Leadership Program (UELIP), because it would provide me with the perfect way to explore this interest. These past few months with UELIP have been truly eye-opening, providing me with the opportunity to effect tangible change.

As an intern with the Language Acquisition Division in the Office of Specialized Instruction (OSI), I assist in developing programs that support English Language Learners in the district. The central project I have been working on throughout the semester is called the Seal of Bi-Literacy program. The purpose of the program is to award high school seniors who have achieved proficiency in two languages with a seal on their diploma. This program is for native English speakers who attain proficiency in a foreign language as well as for ELLs who attain proficiency in English during their high school career. The students demonstrate their second language proficiency through a combination of language assessments and out-of-classroom experiences. In order to assist in facilitating the roll-out of this program, I created a database of language assessments that students will be able to take in order to demonstrate proficiency. I also created an internship database that provides information about various organizations in the DC area seeking bilingual high school interns. Finally, I created an online application for students interested in participating in the program.

I see enormous potential in the Seal of Bi-Literacy, because not only does it provide students the recognition they deserve for accomplishing the difficult feat of speaking more than one language, but it also completely changes the perception that the community has of ELL students. These students are considered to be at a disadvantage compared to native English speakers. It is important to realize, however, that once ELLs attain English proficiency, their bilingualism puts them at a great advantage and equips them for success in this multilingual world. The Seal of Bi-Literacy has the power to shift the community’s mindset toward this population. Therefore, it has truly has been an honor to work with my supervisor, Katarina Brito, to bring this incredible program to fruition.

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