When All Souls World Language School in Alhambra held its June 7 graduation, four 13-year-old eighth-graders were ready for promotion.

That in itself was quite a feat.

The Catholic school that began in 1921 as an integral part of the community was forced to close in 2010 for attendance and financial restraints. But in an attempt to reflect the diversity of the city it represented, it soon reopened as part of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Department of Catholic Schools’ Dual Language Immersion program.

It was also the first to have a pair of dual language programs — Mandarin and Spanish — be part of the curriculum.

“We’re the phoenix rising from the ashes,” said Vivian Vasquez-Hernandez, the school’s director of enrichment and after-school program as well as a graduate of the All Souls Catholic School in 1995.

Vasquez-Hernandez was part of the original board when the school came back in 2012 with just 20 students in a combination transitional kindergarten and first-grade class.

“The church members and the community said it wasn’t the same not to hear the children’s laughter during the time we were closed,” Vasquez-Hernandez said. “It’s been a gem in the community with a longstanding history.”

Children from families identifying as Catholic represent 75 percent of the 320 students enrolled for the 2019-20 school session. While almost half (46 percent) are of Hispanic and Latino heritage, nearly one in three (29 percent) are multiracial, with 18 percent as Asian or Pacific Islander.

As a result of the multilanguage immersion, students who specialize in one of two languages “really are exposed to a third language in daily prayers and Masses and all sorts of activities, so all of that is celebrated,” said Vasquez-Hernandez.

Benjamin Velasquez, also an alum of the school in 2006 who currently works in the front office, added: “It is fun to give tours to families and see the parents comment about how the classrooms are so diverse, particularly families with Asian backgrounds in a Spanish classroom. That’s what they like to see.”

The two girls who graduated earlier this month, Denise Alcazar and Kylie Castro, are going to the all-girls Ramona Convent Secondary School in Alhambra, less than two miles south of the All Souls Church campus.

Of the two boys who graduated, David Lara is going to Polytechnic School in Pasadena and Samuel Peck is going to Don Bosco Technical Institute, the Catholic high school in Rosemead.

In 2020, the school will have its first graduate of the original 20 who enrolled in 2010.


Tom Hoffarth is an award-winning journalist based in Los Angeles.

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