Creswell, Education

Three CHS students earn seal of biliteracy

Seniors Ruby Quiroz-Ariza, Michelle Cantoran-ochoa and Joanna Pantoja stand next to Spanish teacher Kori Warner (second from left). The three students received the Seal of Biliteracy for proficiency in both Spanish and English, which will be placed on their diplomas when they graduate this June. Aliya Hall/The Creswell Chronicle

When Michelle Cantoran-ochoa, senior at Creswell High School, was first approached about the chance to receive a Seal of Biliteracy from her Spanish teacher, Kori Warner, she said she hadn’t heard about schools doing this and didn’t realize it was an opportunity for her.
Cantoran-ochoa, along with classmates Joanna Pantoja and Ruby Quiroz-Ariza, took a two-hour test focusing on the four areas of language comprehension and all received a certificate noting their proficiency in both English and Spanish.
”I wanted to do this to help me see where I’m at,” Cantoran-ochoa said. ”It was a great opportunity, nice to have in the future and to tell my family.”
The three girls are the first ”seal” recipients at Creswell High School. Oregon adopted the option to approve the seal in 2016, and in 2018 there were 16,201 students in 35 districts who have received one.
”It’s a new thing the state is doing and it’s the first year we’ve been able to offer it,” Warner said. ”The idea behind the seal is they’ve shown a level of competency in Spanish and the same level in English; it’s really unique and special.”
Warner said the tests are run through the Willamette Promise program at Western Oregon University. The English tests are done through the high school’s state testing. The girls found out about the test a few days before it was to be administered, but they didn’t need much time to study; all three students are native Spanish speakers who grew up speaking the language with friends and family.
Cantoran-ochoa said that she did try to focus more on her writing because that was her weakest of the four categories. When they were in the test, she added that there was Mexican history in the reading section that made her pause, but ”everything else was easy.”
Quiroz-Ariza agreed that the reading and writing was a little tougher for her because she doesn’t read or write in Spanish as often. For Pantoja, the only issue was part of the listening section.
”When they were actually reading the questions, they use more of a proper way of saying certain things, and I speak slang from what our parents speak,” she said. ”It was just kind of difficult to understand what that certain thing they were talking about was.”
Quiroz-Ariza added that another challenge with the listening was that it was in Spain’s Spanish. The test was a mix of Spanish that is spoken all over the world, and there are differences between them all.
After getting the seal, Cantoran-ochoa said her mom was impressed. She said that her mom wasn’t able to attend middle or high school and told her that it was a great opportunity.
”She was amazed and proud of me,” she said.
Quiroz-Ariza said her family background was similar, and that her family didn’t have the same learning environment she does. When it comes to writing and reading Spanish, she learned it herself, while speaking was something she does with her family.
Warner said that the Seal of Biliteracy is important for heritage speakers, because if they test out of a Spanish class they won’t receive the same access to college credit that non-native speakers do.
”It’s a nice way to offer equity to the students,” she said. ”Getting to recognize this special thing you have. It’s going to be more important with jobs and careers, being able to speak two languages is amazing.”
Pantoja tested out of the class, especially because she reads and writes in her own time because her parents wanted her to keep those skills strong; however, Quiroz-Ariza and Cantoran-ochoa said that Spanish class helped them set aside time to work on writing and reading.
Warner said it’s not something she can take credit for, but she is happy to work with Willamette Promise and offer this opportunity to future students. Although the Spanish program isn’t big enough to offer the biliteracy test to non-native speakers, being able to offer this equity for native speakers is a ”cool thing for the state to offer.”



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