Kansas City, June 4, 2020: Jontell Washington is a builder.
In his case, Jontell knows how to build bridges across linguistic gaps. A member of Lincoln College Preparatory Academy’s Class of 2020, he is one of 59 scholars from across Kansas City Public Schools who earned their Missouri Seal of Biliteracy this year.
The Missouri Seal of Biliteracy is an award granted by qualifying school districts to recognize students who attain academic proficiency in both English and one or more other languages before high school graduation. For Jontell, though, it’s really an acknowledgment of his commitment to learning how to build connections with his Spanish-speaking friends.
“It helps to know more than one language in order to make connections,” he said. “Language can be a barrier between people, when It shouldn’t be. You can miss those connections because you don’t speak the same language.”
Jontell was born and raised in Kansas City, Mo. His mom, Vachone Washington, wanted her son to expand his world, so she enrolled him at George Washington Carver Dual Language Elementary.
Carver Dual Language is a KCPS Signature School that focuses on providing high quality academic and extra-curricular experiences for students in both English and Spanish. Jontell was suddenly surrounded by classmates whose first language was Spanish and who used Spanish in the classroom, playground and cafeteria. Rather than being intimidated, Jontell saw an opportunity to learn and rapidly started picking up this new language.
“It really all started at Carver,” Jontell said. “My friends all spoke Spanish and I picked up the listening and reading part pretty quickly. It was a good experience. A lot of friends I made there, we still hang out together. And probably the most memorable teachers I had were at Carver.”
The team at Carver Dual Language made sure that Jontell was more than ready for the academic rigors and unique opportunities at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy when he matriculated to that school in sixth grade. In addition to handling the standard course-load and excelling as an athlete on the school’s basketball and swim team, Jontell continued to pursue his study of Spanish.
“I think the hardest thing for me to overcome was my own confidence, because I was hesitant to speak it,” he said. “You have brain hiccups. Native Spanish-speakers speak pretty fast and it’s sometimes hard to keep up with. But you learn to get the gist of it and relax. Eventually, you realize that you’re understanding everything.”
Jontell’s experience is one of the reasons why KCPS decided to pursue certification as a Missouri Seal of Biliteracy school system in the fall of 2018, according to Director of Language Services Allyson Hile. She and her team wanted an opportunity to formally recognize students who put in the hard work of mastering a second language.
That includes many students whose families are immigrants and refugees. These young people often perceive their native language as a liability when they move to the U.S., Ms. Hile said. The Missouri Seal of Biliteracy turns their mastery of two languages into a point of pride and strength.
“It’s a real chance for students to actualize their native language and acknowledge their community,” Hile said. “Many of these students are in families that are committed to being bilingual, and that’s something that should be celebrated.”
This year’s cohort of KCPS students who earned their seal includes those who speak Spanish, French, Arabic, Vietnamese, Swahili, Italian, Latin and Bengali. They can now leverage this achievement for college credits, scholarships and career opportunities.
Jontell will be headed to Graceland College in Iowa this fall, where he intends to study journalism and minor in Spanish. He’s also planning a dream trip to Spain at some point in the future.
“The first place I want to visit is Spain,” he said. “I’ve got friends who went there on a school trip our freshman year and it just sounds amazing and beautiful. I’m looking forward to being to enjoy all that while speaking Spanish.”
Everybody should be able to have the experience of connecting with someone who speaks a language other than English, Jontell said. The key is to find and immerse yourself in a community of people who speak that language.
“I really like the process of learning a new language. It’s an accomplishment. You will always have that in your back pocket,” Jontell said. “Try to meet people who know that language and have conversations with them. Spend time with those people outside of school or work. Get over your hangups and do it. Those will become amazing relationships.”
Visit www.KCPublicSchools.org/Biliteracy to learn more about the Missouri Seal of Biliteracy program in KCPS.
2020 KCPS Missouri Seal of Biliteracy Recipients
|School||First Name||Last Name||Language|
|LCPA||Lila||Church||French & Italian|
|LCPA||Aseya||Siddiqua||Spanish & Bengali|