Alta-Aurelia graduates first student with biliteracy seal

Friday, June 21, 2019
Deanna Schaffer is the first student to graduate with a Seal of Biliteracy from Alta-Aurelia High School. Her grandparents, Jose and Balvina Maldonado, speak only Spanish at home.. /Photos Submitted

Deanna Schaffer is proud to not only be a first generation college student, but to be the first certified bilingual student to graduate from Alta-Aurelia High School.

“It’s a big accomplishment,” she said. “It did take a lot of work.”

Schaffer is the first student to earn Alta-Aurelia’s Seal of Biliteracy since the district adopted the program in November 2018, shortly after Storm Lake’s adoption of the program. The program allows the district to recognize students who have attained proficiency in two or more languages by graduation.

Storm Lake Community School District was one of the first schools in the country to adopt the Seal of Biliteracy, in October 2018. Over 20 languages are spoken by students in Storm Lake schools.

Schaffer, who was from Storm Lake, came to Alta-Aurelia’s district after her parents moved.

She admits she was a bit nervous at first about the lack of diversity in Alta, she said, but grew to love her new home’s people and the feeling of a smaller community, with more one-on-one time with teachers.

A trip to her grandparent’s native Mexico before she took her proficiency test helped seal her knowledge with firsthand experience practicing with native speakers. Schaffer’s grandparents speak only Spanish.

English proficiency is measured by an ACT score of at least 18. Proficiency in other languages can be measured by many different standardized assessments. Alta-Aurelia uses the Assessment of Performance toward Proficiency in Languages Exam, commonly used by other schools to test for intermediate proficiency in Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Thai.

She said having a leg up through visits to her abuela did help, but the program was helpful for how it targeted her knowledge of grammar and the structure of Spanish.

“I feel like I have that proficiency to communicate with everyone and translate,” said Schaffer.

She plans to attend Buena Vista University in the fall to major in psychology with a minor in business, on a full-tuition scholarship she earned.

“Being a first-generation college student is nerve-wracking, because my parents didn’t know how to prepare me,” she said. “But it’s coming along.”

Being able to speak more than one language has become increasingly important, particularly for well-paying positions. The New American Economy, a bipartisan research organization, reports that online job postings for bilingual workers in Iowa have tripled since 2010.

“It’s an opportunity to get kids more recognition for being able to show proficiency in more than one language,” said Principal Tom Ryherd in November. “It’s kid of a win-win.” He said some businesses are starting to use the designation as a qualification for job openings.