Ten archdiocesan schools to pilot preschool dual-language program

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Students practice writing in Spanish at St. Procopius School in Chicago on Feb. 25, 2020. For nearly 25 years, St. Procopius has offered a dual-language curriculum in all grades. Ten archdiocesan schools will begin offering preschool students daily core instruction in Spanish, Mandarin or Polish next year as part of a pilot program developed in partnership with the Alliance for Catholic Education at the University of Notre Dame. (Julie Jaidinger/Católico)

Ten archdiocesan schools will begin offering preschool students daily core instruction in Spanish, Mandarin or Polish next year as part of a pilot program developed in partnership with the Alliance for Catholic Education at the University of Notre Dame.

Schools in the Early Childhood Language Intensive Preschool (ECLIP) pilot program will teach students in languages widely spoken in their communities for at least 30 minutes a day, with a goal of helping students become both bilingual and biliterate, said Katy Lichon, director of Catholic School Advantage and English as a New Language at Notre Dame.

Learning two languages at a young age builds a strong foundation for students raised in non-English-speaking households and provides an excellent opportunity for those from English-speaking homes to learn about other cultures, Lichon said.

“There is solid research indicating when you reach students at the pre-K level with multilingual instruction, it tends to stay with them in later years,” she said.

Eight schools offering 30 minutes to an hour of daily core lessons in Spanish will be Annunciata, St. Bartholomew, St. Bede the Venerable, St. Mary of the Angels, Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Nicholas of Tolentine and St. Richard, all in Chicago; and Pope John XXIII in Evanston. St. Therese in Chinatown will offer a curriculum in Mandarin Chinese, and St. Zachary in Des Plaines will provide instruction in Polish.

Teachers at these schools will train on the new curriculum this summer with assistance from Notre Dame.

Michelle Napier, principal of St. Richard School, 5025 S. Kenneth Ave., said she said yes as soon as she heard about the pilot program.

St. Richard’s student body is about 92 percent Hispanic, she said, and of that group, about 70 percent primarily speak Spanish at home. The school’s prekindergarten teacher and aide are fluent in Spanish and already offer some instruction in Spanish on an informal basis.

“What we haven’t had are the resources and the curriculum,” Napier said.

Lichon said Notre Dame has developed curriculum units that will be used in tandem with English-language units, so that if a class is learning about weather in English, it will also do so in Spanish, Mandarin or Polish.

The idea is that students will be learning in the second language, not simply learning the basics of that language.

“They are going to learn phonics and basic literacy,” she said. “This program is foundational in really learning some of those skills.”

Both Lichon and Napier said they hope the program can be expanded into older grades over time. Perhaps, Lichon said, some schools might decide to adopt a full dual-language program, such as at St. Procopius School in Pilsen.

Lichon has worked with St. Procopius and with the dual-language Holy Cross School in South Bend, and she said the program has benefits for children from homes where English or another language is spoken.

“We’re able to share intercultural communities so beautifully because of our shared faith,” Lichon said.

The model hearkens back to Catholic schools that were founded in immigrant communities in the United States generations ago, Lichon said. Most of those schools were staffed by religious sisters who hailed from the same countries as the families they served and they certainly spoke the home languages, fostering communication between families and schools.

The program is drawing interest from parents previously reluctant to enroll their children in preschool because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Molly Cinnamon, principal at Pope John XXIII, said the program provides the opportunity to attract Spanish-speaking families who might not have seen her school as an option.

“We think this will allow Pope John XXIII to be more inclusive of our parish families, many of whom are from Spanish-speaking households,” Cinnamon said. “Our preschool students will get 30 minutes of instruction a day in core subjects such as math and reading in Spanish. Getting to our kids at the age of 3 or 4 bridges an important connection to their homes.

“They will hold onto their native language longer and will have the foundation to build literacy, so they can not only speak in their first language but read and write in it along with English.”

Napier agreed that the program will help draw new families to the school, and will help members of current school families feel more comfortable at the school.

“We’re hoping this program will help enrollment and have some other community members join St. Richard,” she said. “I’m really hoping that this program will build a better connection between school and home in areas of faith, bringing what they learn here at school home and culture.


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