Shawnee Mission students’ foreign language skills stand out in Kansas Biliteracy Seal program

A display acknowledging the SM East students who qualified for the Kansas biliteracy seals.
A display acknowledging the SM East students who qualified for the Kansas biliteracy seals.

The Shawnee Mission School District’s foreign language programs are some of the best in the state in preparing students to communicate and adapt abroad.

That’s the takeaway from students’ performance in the first round of foreign language capacity reviews under a program approved by the Kansas State Board of Education in 2016. The Kansas Seal of Biliteracy program allows foreign language students in the state who can demonstrate advanced proficiency under the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages guidelines to qualify for certification.

“To earn the Biliteracy Seal, students have to demonstrate the ability to defend their ideas in the target language, debate with others, and interact with articles taken directly from publications for native speakers,” said Douglas Murphy, who coordinates the world languages department at SM Northwest. “They must also synthesize and orally present information about the themes studied in class.”

Last school year, the first that seals were awarded in the program, a total of 199 Kansas students earned a seal. Of those, 80 came from Shawnee Mission’s five high schools. Here’s the breakdown by school:

SM East
French: 12 platinum seals, 3 gold seals
Spanish: 20 platinum seals, 4 gold seals
Latin: 3 platinum seals, 1 gold seal

SM North
French: 1 gold seal
Spanish: 3 platinum seals, 2 gold seals

SM Northwest
French: 6 platinum seals
Spanish: 8 platinum seals, 2 gold seals
Latin: 1 platinum seal
German: 3 platinum seals

SM South
French: 4 platinum seals, 1 gold seal
Spanish: 4 platinum seals, 1 gold seal

SM West
Spanish: 2 platinum seals

SM East French teacher Laure Losey, who worked with Murphy, SM East principal John McKinney and district assessment administrator Dan Gruman to implement the program in the district, said Shawnee Mission’s commitment to giving students early exposure to foreign languages seems to be paying off. Shawnee Mission is the only public district in the area to offer six years of French and Spanish. That extra year of training as well as the district’s focus on foreign cultures as well as the language prepare students to use their skills in native settings.

“I have students who study in France and acknowledge the amount of culture we teach as well.  They feel that they fit in better than many other students,” Losey said. “I believe that at level 6 of French and Spanish in Shawnee Mission… students are ready to go abroad and ‘survive.'”