By Constance Dwyer
MILFORD – Kindergartners in Milford Catholic Elementary School will not simply learn Spanish next fall, they will be immersed in it.
The regional school was chosen as one of 12 schools in the country to incorporate Spanish as part of the Two-Way Immersion Network for Catholic Schools. TWIN-CS, co-sponsored by the Barbara and Patrick Roche Center for Catholic Education of Boston College and the National Catholic Educational Association, is the first initiative of the Innovation Institute for Catholic Educators at Boston College.
Milford Catholic Elementary will begin this initiative in September with its incoming kindergarten class. Instruction will be given 90% in Spanish (core classes of math, science and social studies) and 10% in English (music and art).
When the kindergarten students progress to Grade 1, in September 2014, the Spanish/English ratio will change to 80/20 percent. The following year, as they enter Grade 2, the ratio will be 70/30, and it will change when they enter Grade 3 to 60/40. Grades 4, 5 and 6 will be 50/50.
According to Principal Andrea M. Tavaska, “The TWIN-CS Initiative is not a curriculum. It is simply a different way of teaching exactly the same curriculum we have today,” only the language changes. She added that the general rule for learning languages is “the earlier, the better.”
Mrs. Tavaska further said that the school’s objective is to educate students for the future.
“As an academic institution for children PreK3-6th grade, we must look ahead and decide what we can do academically to prepare our students for the challenges awaiting them. We have chosen the Spanish-English two-way immersion method to help them excel in an ever more global, diverse and competitive society.”
Her enthusiasm is mirrored by Delma Josephson, Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Worcester.
“I’m very excited for our school to be selected one out of 12 in the country to do this program. It’s a wonderful opportunity for students and we know learning languages when you’re young is the optimum time. We are going to have wonderful support from the Barbara and Patrick Roche Center for Catholic Education of Boston College and the National Catholic Educational Association.”
The new Spanish immersion instruction has been fully approved by both Superintendent Josephson and Bishop McManus.
TWIN-CS will also offer Milford Catholic faculty and staff ongoing support.
Two-way immersion programs first appeared in this country in the 1960s and their popularity grew from the 1980s on, according to studies conducted by the Innovation Institute. The Center for Applied Linguistics lists 422 two-way immersion programs in the United States as of Dec. 5, 2012. They found that many parents choose two-way immersion from the conviction that exposure to different languages deepens the child’s understanding of various cultures. Demographic studies conducted by the Roche Center have determined that Spanish is second only to English as a language of international communication and is, by far, the most common minority language in the United States.
Based on Milford Catholic’s demographics, and taking into consideration city, state and national data, it was determined that Spanish would be the best language for the school.
Principal Tavaska is currently working with the school’s board members and administration to enable all of the teachers to work within the TWIN-CS model. She noted, “Our entire faculty does not have to be bilingual, but, in time, over the next four years, once the TWI program is fully operational and integrated, at least half the teachers will be fluent in the Spanish language.”
Any future teacher will be recruited nationally, she continued, and the candidate must be an expert in both English and Spanish.
“Our faith-based curriculum combined with our excellent teachers and strong grasp of the Spanish language will set our students apart from their peers and put them on the best track to success,” said Yara Hentz, Milford Catholic’s marketing director.
According to the Roche Center website, the TWIN-CS initiative supports bilingualism and biliteracy. “In other words, English learners become fluent in both English and their native language, typically Spanish. Second, it supports bilingualism and biliteracy for native English speakers, as well. Specifically, English language learners are not separated from their native English classmates, but instead, all students serve as language models for one another, and thus become bilingual together,” the website says.
– The school’s website, www.milfordcatholic.org, contains more information about the immersion initiative.