Tri-lingual student gains cultural understanding in preparation for a career in medicine

Great Oak High School senior Nicolo Villasis is one step closer to his pursuit of a medical career, having earned the Riverside County Seal of Multiliteracy from the Office of Education, Nov. 28 for his proficiency in English, Spanish and Tagalog. Courtesy photo

RIVERSIDE – Born in Manila, Great Oak High School senior Nicolo Villasis learned English as a young child in his first years of school in the Philippines as part of a family and a culture that spoke Tagalog and English. Beyond the formal training in Spanish he has since received in high school, the extent of his formal language training in Tagalog totaled one month in the first grade before moving from the Philippines to the United States in 2007.

Villasis was honored for achieving linguistic proficiency in English, Spanish and Tagalog Tuesday, Nov. 28, as part of the Riverside County Seal of Multiliteracy awards ceremony – an event organized by the Riverside County Office of Education in partnership with districts in recognition of high levels of attained proficiency in English and at least one other world language by high school graduation.

Villasis was one of only three students in Riverside County recognized for fluency in multiple languages. He was also one of 164 students who were recognized for proficiency in one of the following languages: American Sign Language, Arabic, Chinese, German, Indonesian, Spanish, Tagalog, Filipino and Urdu.

Villasis started studying Spanish as a freshman at Great Oak High School in the Temecula Valley Unified School District because he thought it would be useful while living in Southern California. As he began the process, he started to recognize many of the words.

“There are many words borrowed from Spanish for Tagalog which I thought was interesting,” Villasis said. “I had experience with some of the words and thought it was cool to see the similarities between them.”

Villasis has already passed the Advanced Placement test in Spanish with the highest score and the International Baccalaureate exam with the top score in the corresponding subject.

Beyond verb conjugations and grammatical rules from four years of academic training in Spanish, Villasis has also embraced much of the culture surrounding the Spanish language. He enjoys listening to Reggaeton – a musical genre he describes as “party music” that originated in Puerto Rico and is influenced by hip-hop and Latin American and Caribbean music.

Villasis also reads many articles in Spanish for fun and has come to appreciate the perspectives of Latin American countries on world events beyond that of the American news media. He is also involved in the Spanish National Honors Society and the Filipino Club at Great Oak High School.

To prepare for the Riverside County Seal of Multiliteracy assessment, Villasis was confident in his Spanish skills, but needed to brush up on the formal aspects of Tagalog.

“On the bus ride to the assessments, I was reading the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights in Tagalog to find the meaning for words I wasn’t familiar with,” Villasis said. “I found that a humanitarian vocabulary is applicable to academic settings as well, and that helped me through the exam and assessment.”

Villasis is applying to multiple Ivy League schools and a variety of University of California campuses where he has plans to study abroad for a semester in Spain or South America while preparing for a career in medicine – a field in which he is already earning internship skills in the health care field.

“There are lots of people I can help just by speaking another language,” Villasis said. “Not all of the nurses can speak Spanish, so I am able to help patients – even though it is challenging to understand patients who speak quickly, use different dialects or when patients are mumbling or medicated due to an acute situation.”

Villasis said he recognizes that the value of multiliteracy extends far beyond the seal of fluency on his diploma and college applications and will have an impact on the rest of his life.

“It’s cool to connect with people through multiple languages since it is a commonality that we all share. I would like to travel and teach my children languages as well,” Villasis said. “Because of knowing multiple languages and some of the classes I’ve taken where we look at the world and more cultures, I’ve made many new friends and connected to other cultures.”

The Seal of Multiliteracy is intended to emphasize the value of knowing multiple languages, contribute to global understanding, encourage the learning of all languages and connect with community efforts to teach languages and culture in schools and communities.

Students stand to benefit from the Seal of Multiliteracy by the presence of the seal on the transcripts of graduating seniors that not only verifies a high level of proficiency in a second language, but serves as another accomplishment to include in college applications. Additionally, the seal attests to a highly marketable skill that is sought-after by many employers.

The thorough certification process includes an application, writing samples and an interview. Each applicant must receive a passing score in each application category in English and their additional identified world language. All juniors and seniors in public and private high schools in Riverside County are eligible to apply. Among the multiple eligibility requirements, a student must be on track to complete all English or Language Arts requirements for graduation and maintain an overall GPA of 2.0 or above in ELA classes required for graduation.

In its inaugural year in 2013, 21 students earned the Seal of Multiliteracy. This year that number has jumped considerably with 164 students receiving the honor, including three students who were awarded twice for mastery of multiple languages: Alyssa Mae Legaspi of Chaparral High School for Spanish and Tagalog, Deena Massis Al Rabadi of Tahquitz High School for Arabic and Spanish and Nicolo Antonio Villasis of Great Oak High School for Spanish and Tagalog.

There are 17 high schools and nine school districts in Riverside County who students received the honor; Moreno Valley Unified School District students earned the most at 69 students.

Spanish was the most common second language with 149 students gaining proficiency.

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