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Bilingual Maine HS students honored at event hosted at USM

Officials and students at first ever UMS Biliteracy event at USM

The University of Southern Maine recently hosted an event celebrating Maine high school students who received the state's first-ever Seal of Biliteracy. The newly-established honor was awarded this spring by the State Department of Education for the first time to graduating Maine high school students who have demonstrated proficiency in English and another language. 

In establishing Maine's Seal of Biliteracy, the Department of Education was determined to encourage native English speakers to expand and challenge themselves to study a culture and language unfamiliar to them. In addition, they were determined to honor and reward the diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds of Maine citizens whose first language was something other than English.

There are several ways students can demonstrate the mastery of languages, such as attaining high scores on Advanced Placement exams.

During the 2018-2019 school year, 168 students from 22 different high schools earned the Seal of Biliteracy with some 14 languages represented. Of those students, 39 have been accepted at a school in the University of Maine System.

Several of the student awardees from the surrounding community, including some who are attending USM this fall, attended the event, along with officials and faculty members from USM, the University of Maine System, the local public schools and the State of Maine Department of Education.

Pacifique NdayizeyePacifique Ndayizeye, who attended the luncheon, is a recent graduate from Deering High School in Portland who will be studying psychology at the University of Southern Maine in the fall. He was born in Burundi and studied in Uganda before immigrating to Maine two-and-a-half years ago with his family. Pacifique speaks English, French and Kirundi, and is pleased to be one of the first recipients of the Maine Seal of Biliteracy certification.

“My journey to college has crossed borders and covered a lot of ground, but my goal of earning an affordable degree that creates an opportunity for me in Maine is the same as every university student,” said Ndayizeye. “I am eager to begin at USM this fall and am grateful for the opportunity to earn recognition and college credits for my achievements in language learning.”

Guest speakers included University of Maine System Chancellor James Page, University of Southern Maine's President Glenn Cummings, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Education Pender Makin (who is also a dual alumna of USM), and President of the Maine State Senate Troy Bennett.  

President Cummings welcomed the group and shared his thoughts about the importance of learning multiple languages. "In the world today, there are going to be lots of demands on our people, on our graduates, one of them is, ‘Can you communicate well with other people?’ And in a global world that's not one language, that's multiple languages," he said.

Maine now joins 36 other states and the District of Columbia in honoring and promoting the important acquisition of multiple languages. 

"Our extensive Native American and Franco-American heritage has long made Maine a state of many, but not always celebrated, languages. Today, as we welcome new neighbors in Maine from around the world, there are the rich sounds of multiple languages in our public spaces and in our homes. The Seal honors those who have not only demonstrated mastery of their first language but recognizes their achievement in learning another language," said Commissioner Makin.

Representing much of northern Maine as the senator from Maine's 1st Senate District, including the towns of Fort Kent, Madawaska and Caribou, Senate President Troy Jackson shared with the audience just how much Maine's acknowledgment of biliteracy for its students means to him personally. He spoke of the "lost generation" of Mainers, including his family, who struggled with prejudices existing in Maine against the Franco culture and didn't pass on their language to future generations.

Jackson thanked the State Department of Education, the University of Maine System and Maine's schools for making this award possible, and congratulated the students for their accomplishments, saying "Being able to celebrate your culture and letting people understand who you are is a big deal...communication is the key to everything, so that's why I'm very honored to be here to celebrate the efforts of everyone who was involved in putting this program together." 

In his final public event as Chancellor of the University of Maine System, James Page said there is a workforce demand for bilingual workers, some 630,000 job postings in 2015 alone according to the New American Economy Report, and he shared some exciting news with the students in the audience.

"Proficiency in more than one language is among the most important skills a job seeker can have," he said. "And as such, Commissioner Makin and I are pleased to share today that all 168 recipients of the Maine Seal of Biliteracy are now eligible for at least six free language credits at every University of Maine System institution. Our agreement will help these Maine students and their families reduce their college costs by more than $1,500." 

Students who have earned the Seal of Biliteracy and will be attending the University of Southern Maine, may be awarded up to 8 credits in the following courses:  Beginning Arabic I, ARA 102: Beginning Arabic II, ASL 101: Beginning American Sign Language I, ASL 102: Beginning American Sign Language II, CHI 101: Beginning Chinese I, CHI 102: Beginning Chinese II, FRE 101: Beginning French I, FRE 102: Beginning French II, GER 101: Beginning German I, GER 102: Beginning German II, ITA 101: Beginning Italian I, ITA 102: Beginning Italian II, LAT 101: Beginning Latin I, LAT 102: Beginning Latin II, SPA 101: Beginning Spanish I, SPA 102: Beginning Spanish II, LAN 101: Beginning [Language] I (for languages not listed above), LAN 102: Beginning [Language] II (for languages not listed above)

Story, Danielle Vayenas and photographs, Alan Bennett // USM Office of Public Affairs

View the WGME news story here