A new trend in education is coming to the Los Angeles Archdiocese when its first dual immersion school opens its doors to students this fall. All Souls School in Alhambra will feature two language offerings: English/Spanish and English/Mandarin Chinese and will be, by all accounts, an operating model for more such schools in the archdiocese. The school will be the first Catholic school in the nation to offer two concurrent tracks.

Currently, 10 students are officially enrolled in kindergarten at All Souls with more families considering the option. Each subsequent year, another kindergarten class will be added. 

All Souls (which had closed in 2010), along with St. Joan of Arc in West Los Angeles, was slated to open as dual immersion during the last school year, but organizers needed more time to prepare for the changeover. Principal Anne Bouvet was brought on board last summer to guide the re-launch of a 90-year-old school that she herself attended many years ago as a student.

“I had been retired since 2007, but when I saw the announcement for the position, I felt drawn to it,” she says. “I was unhappy to see it closed since it was my parish school, but I also saw the opportunity to be involved in something as groundbreaking as dual immersion.”

Unlike bilingual education, dual immersion is considered more effective as a way for children to absorb and master more than one language. According to the Center for Applied Linguistics, a Washington, D.C.-based research organization, dual language immersion programs have grown from only a few hundred to 1,000 or more nationwide, with California and Texas leading the way.

In 2011, California public schools listed about 300 programs in 100 school districts. Locally, the L.A. Unified School District has about 35 immersion schools that offer Korean and Armenian as well as Spanish-language immersion.

Bouvet is working with consultants from Loyola Marymount University’s Department of Bilingual Education to help structure the program. She also visited other dual immersion schools (Escuela de Guadalupe in Denver which has been operating since 1999) and is in regular email touch with the educators at Holy Rosary School in Tacoma, Wash., that offers a successful program with English and Spanish.

Bouvet describes the concept of dual immersion as alternating languages daily in all subjects for the students. Teachers themselves must be fluent in both languages because they will be modeling how students can go back and forth between languages. The language of the day will be spoken in the classroom, whether students are reading, doing math or discussing religion topics.

Parents are excited about the prospect of the school. “My background is in education and I support what [All Souls] is doing,” says Susana Bonis of Alhambra who will be sending her daughter Mirka Ramirez to the school in fall. “I’m excited to be part of a small community and I firmly believe that early language acquisition is the way to go.”

“Spanish is the language in our household but we get lazy with it,” admits Shawn Prokopec whose 5-year-old Anna will be attending.  “I hope this school will help us all cement the language so both English and Spanish will be interchangeable in our house.”

“I think this [school] will give my daughter [Elizabeth] a big advantage in her future,” concurs parent Ismael Martinez. 

Bouvet agrees that dual immersion can best prepare children for a global world where knowing two, three or even four languages would be a plus --- and not just in the work force. She also sees language as a way to “bridge understanding of different ethnic countries.”

“There is also a justice issue to offer this,” she continues. “There are still many people who think that English is the only way for their children to learn. And in an archdiocese that is overwhelmingly Hispanic, we need to recognize language as an equality factor.”

Parents of soon-to-be kindergartners and first graders are encouraged to bring their children to an All Souls School open house May 20, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at 29 S. Electric Ave., Alhambra. For more information, call (626) 282-5695 or visit www.ascschool.org.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0518/sgallsouls/{/gallery}