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Seal of Biliteracy Opens Up Opportunities

Although Ozark High School senior Anastasia Kozlov was born in the United States, she didn’t speak any English until she was 5 years old. Just a year before Kozlov was born, her parents moved from Russia and only spoke in their native tongue at home.  

“I only started learning English when I came to kindergarten,” said Kozlov, who still speaks mostly Russian with her parents. “I remember learning English and not knowing exactly what was going on. But, because I was younger, I caught on quickly.”

And now, wrapping up her high-school career, Kozlov is hoping to use her bilingual skills to her benefit as she turns the page and starts a new chapter.

“It’s good because I’m always there as a translator,” said Kozlov, who plans to pursue a nursing degree. “I feel like people come in hospitals all the time with different backgrounds and don’t speak English.”

And that, Ozark’s Director of Secondary Learning Melia Franklin said, is why the Missouri Seal of Biliteracy is such a benefit to students.

“Not only do students earn college credit or future job recognition, but it’s also recognizing that we live in a global society and that possessing a language in addition to English is important,” she said.

Offered through the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and in its first year, the Missouri Seal of Biliteracy is awarded to high-school students in districts with a DESE-approved program who have demonstrated achievement in English, a Language Other Than English (LOTE) and sociocultural competence, according to the DESE website.

Ozark is one of 35 school districts in the state to offer the Seal of Biliteracy to this year’s graduating seniors.

“The Seal of Biliteracy indicates a student is literate in English and another language, which doesn’t just mean they possess the ability to speak that language. They must also be able to read, listen and write, as well,” said Franklin, who also served on the state committee to implement the program in Missouri. “What’s beautiful about the Seal is that it’s a recognition of students who are biliterate no matter how they come to that biliteracy. It may be their home language or it may be a language they’ve studied at school.”

There are two avenues to the Seal of Biliteracy: coming into the District with another language, such as Kozlov; or, more commonly, an English speaker who learns another language well enough to qualify for the Seal of Biliteracy.

Ozark senior Parker Hanks is the latter. An International Baccalaureate Program participant, Hanks wanted to not only learn Spanish, but be fluent in it.

“I believe having Spanish will help me with my future opportunities in the job field,” said Hanks, who wants to go into the medical field. “One of my main goals is to help people. I feel like going on missions, I’ll be able to give back to people who aren’t as privileged as we are at Ozark, and I feel that knowing Spanish will help me do that.”

In its inaugural year, the Ozark School District is anticipating awarding 24 students with the Seal of Biliteracy. Test results won’t officially be available until July.

Achieving the Seal of Biliteracy gives students a jump on their next chapter. Some universities recognize the seal and give students college credit, and some Missouri companies also use the Seal for hiring practices. More importantly, however, these students are more culturally diverse.

“They have a distinctive advantage as they move into the global workforce as adults,” Franklin said.

International Baccalaureate students, from left, Rylee Smith, Parker Hanks and David Grumbine tested in Spanish for the Seal