When Lucero Martinez first learned about the Seal of Biliteracy, she jumped at the chance to officially be recognized as being proficient in English and her native Spanish. She was awarded the certificate when she graduated from Ames High School in 2020.

“When you have a certification saying you are bilingual, that gives the employer proof that you are bilingual rather than just saying you are,” she said. “It’s really helpful whether you are applying for jobs or schools.”

Martinez’s alma mater – the Ames Community School District – is one of 117 districts in the state to hand out the seal, which gives the students an important distinction.

“In a global market, being biliterate is a big asset,” said Stefanie Rosenberg Wager, an Iowa Department of Education consultant. “Students who are recognized for their biliteracy are at a great advantage for both college and work.”

Martinez knows that well, having landed a good-paying job working with a spice company that employs mostly Spanish-speaking people.

“It’s a big part of my job – being able to speak Spanish,” she said.

To receive a Seal of Biliteracy, students must be able to demonstrate they are proficient in two or more languages. To qualify, a student must show proficiency in reading, writing, speaking and listening in English and another language. Students may meet requirements at any time during their high school enrollment.

The Seal of Biliteracy values language as an asset, prepares students for the workforce with a valuable skill and provides employers, universities and scholarship providers with a method to recognize applicants for their dedication to attaining biliteracy.

Some colleges and universities recognize the certification, giving the student college credit for the accomplishment.

Shaeley Santiago, the English learner coordinator in the Ames district, said the district adopted the certification the first year it came out in 2019.

“We thought it was a great opportunity to highlight students who know more than one language, whether it’s through our world languages programs or English language learners,” she said. “I think given how our society tends to be monolingual, it is really a great way to highlight the asset these students have.”

District administrators that want to participate can sign up for the program in the Fall Basic Educational Data Survey (BEDS). Questions about the Seal of Biliteracy can be directed to Stefanie Wager at stefanie.wager@iowa.gov or 515-419-2876.

Subscribe to receive email updates from the Iowa Department of Education.