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Five Pratt students earn state biliteracy awards

Courtney Blankenship
Special to the Tribune
Several Pratt High School seniors have been recognized for their academic achievements in learned foreign languages during the school year.

Five Pratt High School seniors earned the Kansas State Seal of Biliteracy this year after taking AAPPL language proficiency exams over reading, writing, listening, and speaking. In addition, students also had to demonstrate English proficiency with their ACT scores.

The students achieving the Seal of Biliteracy include the following: Amee Hidalgo, Gold Seal for English/Spanish and a Silver Seal for English/French; Kahrie Stegman, Silver Seal for English/Spanish; Andres Venegas, Silver Seal for English/Spanish; Jose Garcia, Silver Seal for English/Spanish, and Raul Orozco, Silver Seal for English/Spanish.

Shawndra Bare is also a candidate for the Seal of Biliteracy but has not yet completed all of the necessary testing.

Hidalgo, who earned Seals of Biliteracy for both Spanish and French, said the Spanish test was a little easier for her as a native speaker but the French test was a challenge due to not having many people who could verbally practice French with her.

“I took the test the first semester and passed every other section except the verbal,” Hidalgo said. “Shortly after I took it, Mrs. Popovich had a native French speaker observing her French class, so she set me up with her, and she’d come in early, and she’d practice speaking French with me.”

After retaking the test in the second semester, Hidalgo said she passed and her score raised significantly. While she enjoyed the language preparation leading up to the tests, she said it felt ‘very good’ to hear she had earned the Seal of Biliteracy.

“I love learning about words and how they came to be and the connection between Spanish and English words,” Hidalgo said. “So, I thought it would be interesting to learn French words.”

Having grown up translating for family members and anyone who did not speak English, Hidalgo said she has considered being an interpreter but is now leaning towards social work and doing translation on the side.

Andres Venegas, who earned a Silver Seal for English/Spanish, said he was already familiar with the language and did not find the test too difficult, having grown up in a Spanish-speaking home.

“Overall, it was a great opportunity from the state and Mrs. Popovich, as it would look better for employers when looking for a job,” Venegas said. “I would recommend anyone to take up learning a second language.”

Venegas said the test was completely online and each section took about 30 minutes, depending on how well the tester knew the content.

“The hardest part had to be the writing just because of the syntax of Spanish, with all the accents and having to remember if a word was female or male,” Venegas said. “The easiest, for me, was speaking just because I’ve had to for years.”

In his future career, Venegas said he is sure his language skills and Seal of Biliteracy achievements will allow him to help others.

“My dream career is to be a psychiatrist,” Venegas said. “So, having this Seal and knowing the language would help greatly to get to that position---but also to open up my services to Spanish speakers who otherwise would have a tough time communicating their issues.”

For other students interested in earning the Seal of Biliteracy, Venegas said it is important to keep a clear mind and to practice with native speakers whenever possible.

Raul Orozco, who earned a Silver Seal for English/Spanish, said he would definitely recommend for other students to learn a second language and take the test so they can access more opportunities in the future.

"In my personal opinion, the experience was pretty easy," Orozco said. "Spanish is the main language in my household so both formal and informal forms of Spanish are stuck onto my brain."

Orozco said it felt good to have his bilingual abilities officially shown in test form.

"I want to become a PR [public relations] specialist," Orozco said. "It [the Seal of Biliteracy] will definitely help me, as the two most popular languages in this world are English and Spanish. Knowing two languages extremely well definitely gives me an edge over those who don’t."

Kahrie Stegman, who earned a Silver Seal for English/Spanish, said she was not able to take a language class until her junior year due to having a packed schedule her freshman and sophomore years but when she was finally able to take Spanish, she was the only Spanish 1 student in a room of Spanish 2 classmates.

“Because of that, I learned a lot of vocabulary that the students a year ahead of me were learning,” Stegman said. “I didn’t really remember it last year, but when I learned it my senior year, it was much easier to learn again.”

Though she said she heard Spanish on a daily basis in school, Stegman said it was not enough for her to really understand or learn what people were saying.

“When I decided to take a gap year at the beginning of my senior year, that’s when I decided to get serious about learning Spanish,” Stegman said. “I knew speaking Spanish would become a valuable asset to me in the future, so I decided to choose two countries with very different cultures, but that both had Spanish as one of the main languages. I chose to go to Spain and Peru over my gap year.”

Stegman said she was able to prepare for her upcoming travels abroad and improve her language skills by practicing on a daily basis with Spanish-speaking friends.

“Once I became more confident that I wanted to do that, I realized I had to learn Spanish fast,” Stegman said. “I couldn’t speak it hardly at all at the end of my junior year, but I worked really hard to learn it during my senior year.”

Stegman said she is not sure when she will be able to travel yet due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, however, she said she does not want to go until she is able to have a full experience without restrictions while traveling.

In the meantime, Stegman said she may work and take some online classes until December---then, she will decide how she can proceed with her plans.

“Other things I did to prepare for the test and for my gap year were reading and understanding what I was reading in Spanish, watching videos in Spanish, studying vocabulary, and studying culture,” Stegman said. “When it came to taking the test for the Seal of Biliteracy, I was sure I wouldn’t pass it. I didn’t think I was anywhere near where I needed to be to pass, because I still have so much to learn. I surprised myself when I took the test. I gave it my all and took over four hours to complete the test, but it paid off in the end.”

Luz Acosta was Pratt High School’s first recipient of the Seal of Biliteracy when the Kansas State Board of Education adopted the Seal in 2016.

Michelle Popovich, Pratt High School Spanish and French teacher, said that all five students achieved intermediate-mid scores or higher on each of the four testing areas---reading, writing, listening, and speaking. In order to achieve a Gold Seal, as Hidalgo did, all four scores had to be in the advanced level.

Steve Blankenship, Pratt High School Principal, said earning the Seal of Biliteracy is a great accomplishment and demonstrates the hard work of the participating students.

“Pratt HS is tremendously proud of our students and instructors for their hard work and remarkable success,” Blankenship said.

David Schmidt, USD 382 Assistant Superintendent, said the Kansas Seal of Biliteracy is awarded to students by the Kansas State Department of Education in partnership with Pratt USD 382 to recognize any student who is able to demonstrate proficiency in English and one or more other languages.

“The Seal of Biliteracy is certainly an accomplishment that recognizes a student’s readiness for college and career,” Schmidt said. “Hats off to these 5 students and Mrs. Popovich for their success. Pratt USD 382 is extremely proud of your accomplishment and recognizes that these students truly represent the ‘Uncommon Greenback.’ ‘Once a Greenback, Always A Greenback.’”