May 31, 2019 Academics

Recent Graduate’s Journey to Biliteracy Excellence

Jose Garcia at graduation.
Jose Garcia at graduation.

Graduation ceremonies recently took place for all three high schools in the Sioux City Community School District. Students received diplomas in a class showcasing lingual diversity. Jose Garcia graduated from North High School and can’t wait for the future. “I plan to go to Western Iowa Tech and transfer to USD and maybe Briar Cliff.”

A reporter from Siouxland Public Media asked Garcia, “What do you think of your high school years going to school in Sioux City?”

He replied, “They went fast especially these last two years.”

The 18-year old received a new recognition from the Sioux City Community School. He received a Seal of Biliteracy, earned by students who are proficient in English and one or more languages. In all about 30 students were the first to receive the Seal of Biliteracy.

“We started at Irving Elementary in the bilingual program, so half of the classes were taught in English the other half in Spanish” Garcia added.

Jose, who was born in Garden City, Kansas entered school in Sioux City with limited English, but quickly caught on.

“I came here when I was four-years old. I knew mainly Spanish. I got enrolled in that program. And, I picked up a lot from watching TV too.

Out of the 900 graduates in the Sioux City Community School District’s class of 2019, 104 are English language learners or EL learners.  Approximately 82-percent of the EL students speak Spanish as their native language.

The reporter also asked Tori Albright, the World Language Coordinator for the school district,

“How many languages do students in the district speak?”

“I believe 43. But, that could change frequently because we have different dialects that come in on a regular basis. Language acquisition so complex. It’s one of the most complex topics to talk about and research. Some of the students coming to us come from an educated background. They were lucky enough to have a formal schooling background. Maybe, they are coming to us when they are 10 or 11. Then there are others coming to us when they are 16, 17, 18, even 19-years old and they have limited formal education. And, there are students coming to us from Guatemala where they only have formal schooling until fifth grade. And, they’re coming to us at 16-years old and they have learned many things, but just not academic things. So, they’re coming to us in high school and they a huge gap in instruction, so that’s one of the biggest challenges obstacle we face.”

The reporter asked, “Immigration is such a hot topic in the United States and northwest. There are some people who feel people should be here. What should people know about students who come here who are immigrants?”

Albright added, “It’s a humanity issue, I think. People are people. And I’m very, very, very proud of Siouxland at large and Sioux City Community Schools. We do an excellent job at welcoming every single family that walks through our doors no matter their background. I joke we will never put up a ‘no vacancy’ sign because we are a public school district that opens its arms. We have signs with the top nine languages that say ‘no matter where you are from we are glad you are our neighbor’. No matter they pathway you took to get here we are glad you call Siouxland home.”

Jose says his family migrated from Jalisco, Mexico many years ago for a better life. His parents worked hard to provide for their three children, and strive to learn the language; his father picking it up easier than his mom.

“She’s taken a lot of English classes. I think it would be a lot harder to learn it at an older age instead of Kindergarten on.”

Jose says he doesn’t want to stop with just two languages. Eventually, he wants to learn how to speak Chinese and Japanese. He is also intrigued by German and French.

“I want to study business, so it would be a lot more helpful to learn more languages so I can meet more people.”

Jose is a young man full of hope and determination ready to embrace the world with a deep educational foundation.

Jose was also chosen to greet parents at the beginning of the graduation ceremony at the Tyson Events Center on Saturday in this native language of Spanish.

View the full article by Sheila Brummer on Siouxland Public Media.