Stonington High takes leadership role in state’s biliteracy program

Stonington High takes leadership role in state’s biliteracy program


STONINGTON — Leslie Spencer, a 17-year-old who is in her seventh year taking French, decided early on to immerse herself in the language.

“I will always remember a quote I learned in French 2 at Stonington High: ‘La personne qui sait deux langues en vaut deux,’ or ‘The man who knows two languages is worth two men,’” Spencer said. “This is so important to me, because I feel like learning French has opened me up to a whole new world of opportunity, as I would love to pursue it in college and eventually study abroad, too.”

The state is on the verge of passing a bill this spring aimed at students like Spencer, recognizing those who are proficient in English and another language, advocates said.

Stonington High is already participating in a Seal of Biliteracy pilot this year — the only district in the state — and will award dozens of seniors, including Spencer, the honor that will be attached to high school diplomas and transcripts.

A state Education Committee unanimously approved the bill earlier this month. It now awaits passage in the House and Senate.

“We are very hopeful that this bill will be passed and become law during this legislative session,” said Lea Graner Kennedy, a Spanish and French teacher at Stonington High and strong advocate of the Seal of Biliteracy. She has run the pilot through her district for the state.

“At the end of this school year, SHS seniors will be among the first in our state to be awarded the Seal of Biliteracy and have the credentials added to their transcripts. The Seal of Biliteracy gives students that competitive advantage,” she said. “The functional use in a language is more important than the grades they receive.”

Graner Kennedy spent 14 hours one day in Hartford supporting Bill 7159, and was alongside state Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell, who provided testimony encouraging all senators and representatives to support the bill.

Officials said recognizing students who master a second language encourages all students to study another language and is a reward for students who can speak, listen, read and write in a second language.

“It means that we’re shifting away from the grammar and teaching more the functional use of the language,” Graner Kennedy said. “When my students walk into my class, they’re speaking either French or Spanish. They’re having conversations. Students aren’t memorizing vocab lists and verb tenses. They’re using the language in real-life situations.”

She said the Seal of Biliteracy, which Stonington will continue to implement even if the bill fails, also has prompted the district to look more closely at the middle school languages curriculum, making sure middle and high school teachers are working together.

Spencer said she started taking French in the sixth-grade. Graner Kennedy said, “Leslie has a whole new world that has opened to her because she has real functional use of the language. Starting in sixth grade, every teacher is committed to having the students use the language in authentic ways and that is why SHS students are actually getting the Seal.”

Making conversation

This fall, 536 students were enrolled in French and Spanish courses at Stonington High. After being tested this fall in listening, speaking, reading and writing, 51 juniors and seniors earned their Seals of Biliteracy.

In May, nearly 100 more students will be tested. Students pay $20 to take the test.

“It’s vigorous,” said Graner Kennedy, who is the president-elect of a State Department of Education Seal of Biliteracy work group and will spearhead the effort of working with other districts across the state on how to implement the Seal of Biliteracy program. “They need to know how to start shifting their curriculum,” she said.

Graner Kennedy and the work group will continue to meet with state education officials to revise guidelines and determine how students will be awarded the seal. So far, 25 states have passed legislation to award the Seal of Biliteracy to their students.

She’s hoping that Connecticut will be the 26th state.

“What can you do with the language?” Graner Kennedy asked. “If you’re working as a sales clerk and a family comes in who only speaks Spanish, can you have a real conversation? That’s what we want our students to be able to do.”

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