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Bilingual students deserve special seal

On April 13, 42 students grades 4 to 8 competed in the 20th Annual Spanish Spelling Bee sponsored by the New Mexico Association for Bilingual Education at the Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque. The theater was full of families and school sponsors who were anxiously supporting their contestants.

For three hours, contestants would walk up to the microphone, receive a word to spell and ask judges for a definition, for the word in a sentence and to repeat the word.

After three hours there was a winner, a young man from Sunland Park Elementary in Gadsden. The runner-up was from Las Cruces.

The five finalists will compete in the 3rd Annual Santillana USA National Spanish Spelling Bee on July 20.

The pride of the students, their families and sponsors in their language and culture was palpable. What was even more amazing was the ability of each of these students to demonstrate their academic proficiency in both English and Spanish.

This past legislative session, New Mexico House Majority Leader Rick Miera sponsored HB 541, Language Proficiency and Council.

This bill passed both the House and the Senate. The bill would provide all students in New Mexico graduating from high school the opportunity to receive a bilingual seal on their diplomas after a rigorous process demonstrating proficiency in two or more languages. It accommodated the non-written Native American languages of New Mexico.

The seal currently is given in some high schools, but HB 541 would make the seal available to all students in the state.

It was endorsed by 404 teachers, parents and administrators across New Mexico. The states of California and New York have already signed off on policy that recognizes the value of bilingualism and have made the bilingual seal available to their graduating seniors.

HB 541 reinforces the state’s longstanding view of bilingualism as a valuable asset for all students. New Mexico’s multicultural context is enjoyed by all. Bilingualism is recognized the world over as valuable, necessary and expected of citizens in the modern interconnected global network. Multilingualism has become a necessity if the United States is to maintain its leadership role in the global marketplace.

Gov. Susana Martinez is a respected national leader who has profited from the fact that she is bilingual. On several occasions the governor has mentioned her support for the languages and cultures of New Mexico.

So why would the governor not support a bilingual seal that honors New Mexico students who through a rigorous process have demonstrated academic success and proficiency in English and another language and who have gone above and beyond the requirements needed to graduate from a New Mexico high school?

Also signed by Davis Briseno, New Mexico Association for Bilingual Education; Julia Rosa Lopez-Emslie of the Coalition for the Majority; and Mary Jean Habermann-Lopez. David Rogers is the executive director of Dual Language Education of New Mexico.