The Archdiocese of Baltimore will open its first bilingual immersion program at a Highlandtown elementary school this fall, officials announced Monday.
A bilingual teacher at the Archbishop Borders School will teach English and Spanish to 40 kindergarten and first-grade students next year, officials said. The program will expand as those students move up in grades.
Initially, one bilingual teacher will lead lessons in reading and language arts in English and then Spanish, Principal Cathy Marshall said. As the program follows students through the grades, the school will add bilingual teachers, she said.
"It will be a side-by-side program, a real 50-50 blend," Marshall said. "We have been gradually implementing English as a Second Language and reading strategies into the curriculum. This will make it so much better."
More than half of the 165 students enrolled at the school are of Hispanic descent, Marshall said.
"Our Spanish parents are especially delighted," she said.
Younger children have the ability to develop language because they have better mental flexibility and listening and memory skills, she said. Starting bilingual instructions with the youngest students also allows for a longer sequence of instruction and gives children the best path for emerging from the eighth grade fluent in both languages, she said.
"We know that it takes five to six years to acquire proficiency in language," Marshall said. "By beginning at an early age, we are hoping these students will graduate from here bilingual and bi-literate. It will really open doors for them."
The Archbishop Borders School was formed in 2002 after the consolidation of St. Elizabeth of Hungary and Our Lady of Pompei. At present, the school offers Spanish classes once a week for students in grades pre-K to four and twice per week for those in grades five through eight as part of its after-school enrichment program.
"Immersion will be entirely different," Marshall said. "We are hoping the children will really begin to understand the languages and develop an understanding of one another's cultures. We know we have willing students and supportive parents."
The announcement follows news this month that the archdiocese will close 13 of its 64 schools at the end of the academic year as part of a consolidation that officials say is necessary to keep the system viable in the face of falling enrollments and rising costs.
The program is the first of several to be announced by the archdiocese as part of that consolidation. Future announcements are expected to designate schools to host Harvard University's New American Academy educational model, the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education Coalition, Montessori and PRIDE (for students with special learning needs).
"The language-immersion program is one of several recommended by our office of planning," said Sean Caine, spokesman for the archdiocese. "This represents a curriculum far different from what we have done to date. It makes sense to begin it in a school with this significant Latino population."