Local bilingual educator earns statewide honors
EAGLE — Students can be lots of things in their lives, and one of them will be masters of two languages if Jessica Martinez has her way, and she often does.
Martinez is director of the Eagle County School District’s English Language Learners programs. She is one of three Colorado educators to receive the annual Board Award from the Colorado Association for Bilingual Education.
Fittingly, Martinez received her award Sept. 24 at the 2015 CABE Conference in Denver, the same day Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a proclamation naming Sept. 24 Bilingual and Biliteracy Education Day.
Martinez was honored for her work to secure the school district’s approval of a Seal of Biliteracy for graduating students, beginning with the 2016 class. The seal will be attached to the diplomas of graduates who are proficient in two or more languages.
Seal of Biliteracy
Eagle County’s school district is one of the few in Colorado to give a Seal of Biliteracy for students who demonstrate proficiency in two or more languages. The other is in Adams County. The Seal of Biliteracy has also been adopted as a state award in 10 states, and the District of Columbia.
Martinez also helped establish the school district’s Bilingual Pathway Award, earned by fifth and eighth grade students who demonstrate academic levels of language, literacy and community action in two or more languages.
“The CABE Board was particularly impressed with your selfless work to ensure that not only your district, but also other Colorado districts have the opportunity and encouragement to adopt their own Seal of Biliteracy,” the award announcement said.
Martinez was selected to receive this honor because of her work as a key player in Team Colorado, and her individual efforts that resulted in the creation and adoption of the Seal of Biliteracy in Eagle County Schools, according to the award announcement.
Martinez often says the mastery of two or more languages is important in a student’s cognitive development, understanding of diverse cultures and economic opportunities.
“Research shows that being bilingual and biliterate not only increases creativity and problem-solving, but it also opens up economic and cultural pathways for students,” she said when she received the award. “Employers today choose to hire bilingual applicants over those who are not.”
In almost every area of the job market, being competent in at least two languages is a quality that is valued and sought after, and students who achieve the Seal of Biliteracy have the advantage, said.
“The Seal makes it easy for employers to see that an applicant is academically bilingual and biliterate, and has the dedication and work ethic it takes to achieve it,” she said.
The data bears her out
Among the dozens of studies is one from the National Education Association, http://www.ncssfl.org/papers/BenefitsSecondLanguageStudyNEA.pdf, which goes so far as to say, “A pervasive lack of knowledge about foreign cultures and foreign languages threatens the security of the United States.”
Less drastic assertions from other reports find that students receiving academic development in two languages have increased critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Children are more comfortable learning from mistakes, handling challenges and are leaders in bridging cultures.
“Her commitment to organizing the resources needed to launch the Seal of Biliteracy and her advocacy for bilingual education was noted by both CABE and our own Board of Education as being truly inspirational,” said Eagle County School District Superintendent Jason Glass.
For 40 years, Eagle’s Community Helpline has been a living example of the axiom that giving begins at home.