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San José Unified Celebrates Biliteracy and Bilingualism

SJHS grad wearing Seal of Biliteracy badge and sash

San José Unified offers several opportunities for students in elementary, middle, and high school to be recognized for demonstrating proficiency and competency in more than one language. Research has shown that acquiring more than one language from an early age leads to stronger cognitive abilities, multicultural awareness, improved academic achievement, and positive economic opportunities.

The District’s biliteracy recognitions are established to acknowledge and award students in grades five and eight who have demonstrated progress toward proficiency in more than one language in the areas of reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Once in high school, eligible students can work toward the State Seal of Biliteracy.

San José Unified offers a Two-Way Bilingual Immersion program (TWBI) at nine schools for students in TK-12, and also offers a variety of world language courses in middle and high school. In the 2022-2023 school year, San José Unified awarded 246 high school seniors with the Seal of Biliteracy. 192 students in 8th grade and 253 students in 5th grade earned bilingualism honors. The languages represented for the Class of 2023 Seal of Biliteracy earners included Spanish, Mandarin, French, Japanese, Italian, and Portuguese.

●      Elementary school recognitions (Grade 5): San José Unified has two elementary bilingualism recognition awards for eligible elementary students. Proficiency criteria is the primary difference between the two awards.

●      Middle school recognition (Grade 8): The Pursuit of Bilingualism Award recognizes students who are engaged in developing language skills in two or more languages. The attainment of the Pursuit of Bilingualism award is an indicator that continued progression toward mastery of language skills could enable students to meet the criteria for the State Seal of Biliteracy.

●      State Seal of Biliteracy (Grade 12): The State Seal of Biliteracy awards eligible high school seniors with a special designation, certificate, and seal on the diploma noting mastery in one or more languages in addition to English. Students who opt out of the SBAC assessments during grade 11 become ineligible to earn the Seal of Biliteracy.

For San José Unified students, the Pathways to Biliteracy programs offer numerous benefits, both cultural and academic.

Daniel Zwick, an eighth grade student at Willow Glen Middle, chose to learn Spanish to further connect with his community. "I live in San Jose where there is a big Latino community and I wanted to develop a second language that could help me communicate better, so Spanish made a lot of sense,” said Zwick. “I also play soccer, which is this universal sport. So, if I ever want to go pro it really helps to be able to speak with people."

Amaya Vera, an eighth grade student at Willow Glen Middle who is on track to receive the Pursuit of Bilingualism award, said she enrolled in the TWBI program in elementary school to better communicate with her extended family.

“In kindergarten, my parents signed me up for the Spanish program at Willow Glen Elementary so I could better connect with my family in Mexico,” said Vera. “My family and friends were actually just up here from Mexico to celebrate my sister’s birthday and it was great being able to communicate with them so easily because their main language is Spanish. I’m going for the Seal of Biliteracy in high school because it can help with college applications and jobs, and I want to be able to communicate with others around the world.”

Yareli Morales, a senior at San José High, is a native Spanish speaker who is on track to earn the Seal of Biliteracy in 2024. Instead of Spanish, she chose to study Portuguese because her school offered the language and she wanted to challenge herself.

“I’ve always wanted to stand out, so I chose this program because I know that it was something that could really challenge me,” said Ramirez. “The Seal of Biliteracy is a big accomplishment and just seeing that I can accomplish something like that gives me the feeling that I’m capable of doing so many things. My teachers have been incredibly supportive of me. My history teacher and Portuguese teacher have taught me so much and really inspired me to go further with this.”

“We celebrate our students who have achieved the rigorous and remarkable accomplishment of earning a bilingualism or biliteracy honor,” shared San José Unified Superintendent Nancy Albarrán. “We take pride in offering programs and creating learning environments at all grade levels that encourage students to express and promote multiculturalism.”

San José Unified highly encourages students and families to learn more about our language offerings and contact their school administrators for additional information.