By Christine McCarriston
Classical senior Genesis Beato can’t remember if her first words were in Spanish or English. Both languages have always been part of her. Like her classmates, Genesis will not walk across the stage to receive her diploma due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While graduation will be virtual and school has been through remote learning, some things remain and for Genesis that means earning the Massachusetts Seal of Biliteracy with Distinction in Spanish, and the Massachusetts Seal of Biliteracy in French, a language she taught herself. Oh and she knows Japanese and a little sign language, both also self-taught. Genesis is the first Lynn Public Schools student to pass the Seal of Biliteracy exam for two languages.
As a fourth-grader, Genesis watched the popular television show Switched At Birth and taught herself sign language through the show. My family recently discovered that my cousin’s daughter Lauren did this same thing. We were quite impressed. Genesis, however, did not stop there. When she watched Japanese cartoons, Genesis turned to the internet to better understand what she was viewing. She started with the alphabet then moved on to vocabulary lists.
In middle school, she listened to a song in French and wondered what the lyrics meant. Genesis studied and made progress in French but realized she wasn’t communicating with anyone in the language. “There are language exchange apps where you can speak to someone in the targeted language. That was the turning point. I realized, wow, I can really communicate with people.” She still uses the apps to increase her proficiency in French. So continued her study of French that led her to pass the MA Seal of Biliteracy test in the language.
The MA Seal of Biliteracy Program is a component of the state’s LOOK Act (Language Opportunities for Our Kids) that districts can volunteer to participate in. The Lynn Public Schools eagerly implemented this program last year in its initial year to give students the opportunity to demonstrate their linguistic assets and skills. To earn the Seal, students must meet the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) English Language Arts requirement to demonstrate proficiency in English along with all other graduation requirements, in addition to a score of Intermediate High on a world language assessment using the American Council of the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) guidelines. To be awarded the MA Seal with Distinction, students must earn an MCAS ELA score of 501 (Next-Generation MCAS) or 260 (Legacy MCAS), and an Advance Low level for the world language assessment using the ACTFL guidelines.
Add to this self-imposed study of linguistics, a senior schedule of four Advanced Placement classes, Honors classes and orchestra where she is co-concert master. She successfully took four Advanced Placement classes in her junior year. During her high school years, Genesis and her mother also struggled with finding a place to live while her mom went from job to job for reasons she could not always control.
After living in New Hampshire freshman year in what she called a “bad situation,” Genesis was excited to come back to Lynn where she had attended Callahan, Connery and Breed schools. “We were staying with a family friend in a spare bedroom and I had a bed and was so excited. Then on the first day of sophomore year, the friend told me we had to move out in a week because they were renting the room out.”
She took this curveball as a “realization of life.” Her plan to get through this was as simple as it was challenging. “I can’t be sad about this. Let’s just go to school. I can practice French and pretend nothing happened.” Just go to school. In this time of remote learning, her words take on a deeper meaning stressing just how important being in school is to students.
She talked about having some dark moments of sadness and anger, but continued to “get up the next day.” The routine, friends and teachers that Lynn Classical provides is the key to her academic and linguistic success.
Calculus teacher Samira Ghili and homeroom teacher Rita Wakefield garner special thanks from Genesis for helping her walk through her most difficult days. Wakefield was the first teacher she saw each morning. Her positive impact and concern helped begin each day on the right note. Ghili saw Genesis’ math intelligence and connected her with a friend who needed a tutor for her child. That friend recommended another and then Genesis was making money on her own.
“When I’m at school everything is OK,” she said as she sat in the school library recently. “Then I would be busy after school, too.”
Busy is an understatement. The self-described quirky and creative soon-to-be graduate has played the violin for eight years. Music is her life, she said, quickly adding her love of languages, too. The confidence and musicality that brought her to the co-concert master position began eight years ago when her violin teacher, Britany (Kolodziej) Phillips, saw something special in her and handed her sheet music for the National Anthem.
“I could only pluck. I couldn’t even bow and I didn’t read music,” she remembered. As you can infer, that didn’t stop this determined student. “I went home and guessed at the music and came back and plucked the National Anthem. The teacher cried.”
Phillips’ tears started a river that brought private lessons and put Genesis center stage. “Suddenly, I was getting private lessons, then suddenly I was getting more private lessons, then suddenly I was doing all this. The ‘suddenlys’ build up. Her crying was the catalyst for everything. I’m not even sure she knows she did that for me.”
Phillips no longer works in Lynn but through e-mail recently recalled the joy Genesis radiated when she entered a room. “I remember Genesis fondly. How could I ever forget such a remarkable student? She was as kind and hard working as she was gifted,” Phillips said.
With a schedule full of advanced classes, self-imposed study of linguistics and the struggle for a stable and consistent home throughout her high school years, Genesis needed to rely on her resiliency and gratitude.
“I have a strange philosophy,” she explains. “I’m not a religious person but when times were really hard I would almost pray to my future self.” She would send herself positive messages that she believed she would need later. “If you keep doing it, then when you’re going through troubled times, you’ll have messages from yourself. When you get positive things happening, you thank your past self because my past helped me get here.”
Genesis and her mom are living happily in their own apartment now. Her mom has always been a constant supporter of all Genesis undertakes. The Classical Ram was accepted into Amherst College “with a full ride,” but has chosen to pursue her education at Brown University.
I asked what she would say today to 10th grade Genesis on the day she discovered she needed to find a new home. She paused and then said, “I don’t want to be cliché. I don’t want to say it’s going to be OK, because it’s not OK. No one should have to go through that. But it’s worth it. “
Genesis Beato is definitely worth it.
Christine McCarriston is a LPS elementary English Learner Coach with a Journalism degree from Suffolk University. She is the author of Jenna’s Troublesome Tooth.