Five Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) World Language teachers recently earned the Global Seal of Biliteracy. The Seal of Biliteracy is a credential that was first established in 2008 in California and adopted by Maryland in 2016. The recognition is given to students and educators who have studied and attained proficiency in two or more languages and can be used as a credential for academic and employment purposes.
Spanish teachers Joshua Clark of Henry E. Lackey High School, Maureen Stewart of North Point High School, Danyale Ury of North Point, Ana Villela-Villela of Milton M. Somers Middle School, and Latin teacher Nancy Jeffrey of Thomas Stone High School earned the distinction.
Joshua Clark, a Spanish teacher at Henry E. Lackey High School, graduated from Lackey in 2014 and has taught at the school for four years. He began taking Spanish as a student at General Smallwood Middle School and continued at Lackey with Cheryl Edge. Edge, currently a teacher at St. Charles High School, was an inspiration, Clark said. “I loved her storytelling teacher style,” he said. Clark’s students feel the same way about him. “Mr. Clark is a great teacher,” Jamari Somerville, a junior, said. “We don’t just sit there on a computer or reading a book. You can’t have your AirPods in. You have to listen.” Freshman Demi Stevenson said Clark is engaging and stokes her interest in learning a second language. “There’s a lot of people in the melting pot of America and not everybody speaks the same language.” Knowing another language will only benefit students in the future, Somerville said. “I want to travel. I want to get to know new people. Speaking another language — it helps,” he said. Clark expanded his knowledge of Spanish in college. He studied abroad in Costa Rica and taught in Argentina. He admits to not feeling comfortable speaking the language until he reached the end of college when he buckled down and put time and effort into it. “Just like any other thing in life, you must put in the work to excel and dedicate a lot of time,” he said. “I always tell my students that if you are able to learn your first language, then you will be able to learn a second language. Knowing other languages opens new doors and gives you a new set of eyes on how other people live their daily lives.”
Nancy Jeffrey grew up hearing different languages. Her paternal grandmother spoke German, while aunts and uncles on her mother’s side spoke Spanish. In the seventh grade, influenced by her grandmother, Jeffrey began studying German. Once she got to high school, she added Spanish to her list of classes. “My mother’s side of the family is from Mexico, and I wanted to be able to speak to my aunts and uncles in Spanish when they came to visit,” Jeffrey said. “Although to be honest, they all spoke perfect English.” She found that she did well in foreign language classes and found a career teaching them. Jeffrey has been with CCPS for 33 years, all at Thomas Stone. She has also taught in New York and Louisiana. She is certified to teach Latin, German, French, and Spanish —and dabbles in Italian, Yiddish, and Hebrew, “But not enough to be conversant, just ‘polite,’” she said. Jeffrey teaches Latin and German at Stone and two foreign language exploratory classes at John Hanson Middle School. Trinity White is a junior in Jeffrey’s Latin class. She believes it’s important to explore other cultures. “This is my favorite class,” she said. “Ms. Jeffrey is strict, but not in a mean way — in a motivational way,” Jeffrey tells her students that the benefits of learning languages are immeasurable. “One learns one’s own language better when learning a world language,” she said. “One does not learn a language without also learning history, culture, art and literature.”
Maureen Stewart can thank her father for sparking her interest in Spanish. “In high school, our dad said we had to take at least three years of a language, so I did,” said Stewart who teaches Spanish at North Point High School. “By the time I was a senior, I liked it.” Her language skills weren’t stellar when she landed in college. An instructor told her she had some of the worst grades in his class. She couldn’t argue with him. “He was right. My grades were horrible,” Stewart said. The teacher lead a program that went to Mexico during the summer, and Stewart went along. “It was the beginning of a beautiful thing,” she said. Her language skills still didn’t take off, but she was encouraged to keep studying. Two years after that first trip to Mexico, she returned and her Spanish took off impressing not only her teacher but Stewart herself. She has taught Spanish for more than 30 years and has taken groups of students on trips to Mexico and Spain, meeting lifelong friends along the way. It’s something she wants her students to experience. “I want to travel,” freshman Aaron Smith said. “If you know the language, it’s easier to experience other cultures.” Stewart encourages her students by using real-world incentives for learning another language. “I tell students they move to the front of the line when applying for any job,” she said. “I tell them they can travel and earn money and there is a growing need in our country.”
In college, Danyale Ury found she had an aptitude for languages. She also found that she liked communicating with people and hearing their stories. The benefit of knowing another language is sharing authentic experiences with others, Ury said. It also has a very practical side. Being able to speak more than one language makes a person more “marketable” in the employment sector. It’s a skill that high school students on the precipice of going out into the “real world” might want to hone. “Both people in general and students should learn another language for job marketability purposes and to open themselves up to authentic experiences,” Ury said. In addition to speaking English and Spanish, Ury speaks a bit of French. North Point sophomore Nadia Gaskins is in Spanish III and is interested in learning more languages. “I’m really into East Asia culture and would like to study Korean, Japanese.” Gaskins wants to expand her skills across borders. “I think in America … we’re not as well-versed in languages other than English,” she said. With the study of different languages and cultures, “We can understand each other better,” she said.
Ana Villela-Villela, a Spanish teacher at Milton M. Somers Middle School, came to the United States when she was 13. Her first language is Spanish, her second is English. “Knowing two languages has opened many doors and opportunities for me in the workplace,” Villela-Villela said. “It has helped me understand the cultural difference and diversity that exists in the United States.” She tells her students that in her classroom, they are doing more than learning Spanish. “I always tell my students that learning a new language can help your brain learn new skills, build muscle, and increase memory skills,” she said. “It helps an individual understand their first language better in the grammatical context. It expands our views and perspectives of different cultures, customs, and traditions. It helps us to understand and see the world in a completely new way.” Yudit Martinez-Martinez, an eighth-grader, said she grew up speaking Spanish with her family, but she wanted to learn more about different cultures and other aspects of the language. Villela-Villela stresses to her students that the skill will broaden their future while providing a service now. “We’ll have more work opportunities,” Martinez said of bilingual students. “And we can help other people who might be having trouble but only speak Spanish.” Villela-Villela keeps things interesting in the classroom, eighth-grader Derrick Perrin said. “She’s fantastic,” he said. “She’s not a teacher who just lets us sit there and look through a book. No, she helps you out and we play games — which helps me a lot.”