Gaining working fluency in Spanish has literally paid off for a senior at Gerstell Academy. Elizabeth Chagalis is one of 12 students in the United States who has won a $2,000 prize for her advanced proficiency as evidenced by an essay and a conversation in Spanish.
Only one senior member from each chapter of la Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica (SHH- National Spanish Honor Society) in the United States may apply for a college scholarship. Twelve $2,000 awards and forty $1,000 grants are available each year. Elizabeth has earned one of the two awards for $2,000 offered in the mid-Atlantic and northeast region.
Elizabeth submitted a two-page persuasive essay in Spanish based on the following prompt: “As a 21st century citizen, explain in what way you might use what you have learned in your Spanish classes to be a better global citizen and to contribute to your community.” She also submitted a five-minute video in Spanish in which she discussed her motivation for continuing to study Spanish.
As current President of the SHH, Elizabeth inspires others as they plan a spring fair to celebrate Hispanic cultures. She is also teaching Spanish to a kindergarten class two days per week.
Elizabeth is now enrolled in Gerstell's “Intern/Mentor Program: Spanish in the Community” in which she uses Spanish in and outside the classroom to interact and collaborate in the community. Elizabeth has written her résumé in Spanish and is putting together an ePortfolio. She is interested in the fields of neuroscience and psychology. While conducting independent research in these fields, she seeks professional guidance from her community mentor, a bilingual attorney who is very involved in the local Hispanic community. She has been researching a project out of UC Davis and has used it and others as a springboard to her personal data collection on the status of mental health services in the Latinx community. Her goals are to determine how language barriers and/or socioeconomic status affects the availability and delivery of resources in the community and to create a product to help Spanish-speaking residents get access. As a first step, Elizabeth began to collaborate with her mentor to create a program to encourage others to receive the Covid 19 vaccination. By May 2022, she will have analyzed, synthesized, and evaluated her findings to develop her product for presentation to the community. All of her work is in Spanish only.
While attending Gerstell Academy, Elizabeth has received state and national recognition for her accomplishments. In addition to winning both gold and silver medals on the National Spanish Exam (NSE), she distinguished herself by earning perfect scores on the vocabulary and listening sections. Elizabeth was one of just 15 students nationally to win the NSE Global Citizen Scholarship at the end of freshman year. She spent two weeks fully immersed in Spanish at Concordia Language Villages and returned to campus even more motivated to use the language. As a sophomore, she took Avant Assessment’s Standards Based Measurement of Proficiency test. She earned a score of nine in both reading and listening, which equates to an Advanced High proficiency. In writing, she scored at the Advanced Low level, and just missed that same level in speaking. Elizabeth has officially earned the Global Seal of Biliteracy in Spanish and English, Level 2- Working fluency after scoring a five on the AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam in May 2021.
Elizabeth’s most distinguished award came in her junior year. Her countless hours of work on an essay in which she explained the value of language and her non-scripted speech on camera impressed the national judges who named her one of only two winners of the Sociedad Honoraria’s Bertie Green Junior Travel Award. Elizabeth returned to El Lago del Bosque at Concordia Language Villages this past summer and thrived for four weeks, speaking Spanish 24/7 without access to cell phones, computer, or social media.
Elizabeth is interested in pursuing a career in international business and Spanish. She will apply her scholarship to her studies at the college of her choice in 2022-23.