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Missouri awards Visitation Academy’s Rose Fontana with Seal of Biliteracy

Visitation Academy student receives state honors for proficiency in Spanish

It was a grueling, four-hours-long test in a non-native language requiring lots of prep work. But Rose Fontana didn’t mind.

Fontana, a senior at Visitation Academy, voluntarily took the ACTFL Assessment of the Performance Toward Proficiency in Languages test. It has four parts and involves interpersonal writing, a reading test, listening portion and simulated conversation. She received a high performance score in each individual portion of the exam.

The result: Fontana received the Missouri Seal of Biliteracy from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. It means that Fontana is a whiz in two languages — English and Spanish. She’s “competente,” or proficient, you might say.

To feel confident enough to take the test, Fontana took two trips this past summer to Latin America, spending her hard-earned money on a language immersion trip to Peru through Visitation and (with her mom’s help) on a service trip to Nicaragua with her youth group from Incarnate Word Parish in Chesterfield. The Life Teen group worked on building a water system and on community development.

Fontana had not visited a Spanish-speaking country previously. “I felt like I made a pretty solid effort to speak Spanish when I could,” she said. “I don’t feel I was super confident until the very end of the trip.”

Nicaragua was about a week and a half later. About 70 people were in the youth group, with few of them able to speak Spanish. The youth group visited a rural area through Amigos for Christ,.

The service trip was a good fit for Fontana. “I have always been pretty involved in my faith. I started going to Incarnate Word’s youth group during the middle or end of my sophomore year. When they told me they had an opportunity to do service there, I thought, ‘Can I please do this?’ I was really excited to help people and practice my Spanish. It’s exactly what I want to be doing.”

Fontana plans to pursue a dual major in college, studying chemical engineering.

Her interest in Spanish began in grade school when she took Spanish classes at St. Gerard Majella Parish in Kirkwood. Once she entered high school her interest intensified, with more Spanish classes in school and listening to Spanish music and TV shows on her own.

She plays soccer at Visitation and is involved in the Christian Life Community club.

Visitation is a special place, Fontana said. It worked out well considering no one from her grade school went to Visitation and she felt a bit out of place at first. “They’re so good at giving us every single opportunity to succeed, explore our passions and cultivate them,” she said. “They let me do everything I wanted to do.”

The Seal of Biliteracy is an award given by a school, school district, or state in recognition of students who have studied and attained proficiency in two or more languages by high school graduation. The aim is to help students recognize the value of their academic success and see the tangible benefits of being bilingual.

>> Seal of Biliteracy

Visitation Academy senior Rose Fontana was awarded the Missouri Seal of Biliteracy recently from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The award is given to graduating high school students in districts with a DESE-approved program who have demonstrated achievement in English, a language other than English, and sociocultural competence.

St. Dominic High School in O’Fallon is the only other Catholic school in the St. Louis area eligible to offer the Missouri Seal of Biliteracy. There are only a few school districts in the state of Missouri that have gone through the process to make the Seal of Biliteracy available to their students.

“Typically, we offer this examination in the spring to ensure that our students are as prepared as they can be,” stated Jessica King, department chair of Modern & Classical Languages, Spanish instructor and co-coordinator of the program at Visitation Academy. “Rose, who is a student in my AP Spanish course, was eager to see if she could earn the Seal of Biliteracy prior to submitting her college applications. She took the ACTFL Assessment of the Performance toward Proficiency in Languages, which took about four hours to complete and included listening, writing, speaking, and reading sections,” King said.

To qualify for the Missouri Seal of Biliteracy, applicants must take a standardized Spanish examination and earn a certain rating in every category, as well as demonstrate proficiency in the English language through English II EOC, ACT, SAT, or ACCESS for ELS scores and complete an internship, community service, study abroad program or project to gain sociocultural competence.

Visitation completed the process required to make the Seal of Biliteracy program available to its students in 2018. At the end of the 2018-19 school year, two seniors, Sophia Grimes and Emma Forthaus, received the Seal of Biliteracy, the first Visitation students to receive this award.

The Seal of Biliteracy takes the form of a gold seal that appears on the transcript or diploma of the graduating senior and is a statement of accomplishment for future employers and for college admissions. Currently, 37 states and Washington D.C. have approved a statewide Seal of Biliteracy. Missouri began its program in 2017.

Visitation Academy is an independent, Catholic school offering a co-educational Montessori program in grades toddler through kindergarten and an all-girl environment in Grades 1 through 12.

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