As the first step in the development of a school-wide dual language initiatives, will expand Spanish language programs at the kindergarten level in the upcoming academic year.
Principal Anne Tortora said the plan is to begin at the kindergarten level and expand the program along with the incoming class, adding dual language aspects to the remaining eight grades in the school. Tortora said about 60 percent of the students in the school are Latino, and 25 percent are considered English Language Learners.
“I think what’s really helped us is just having an open mind and be willing to step out and try something new,” she said.
While changes will be made to the “routines and environment” at the school, the curriculum will remain the same. The intent is to increase the cultural awareness, language skills, organizational abilities, and creative thinking in students.
The school has taken some steps toward increasing the use of Spanish alongside English in the school, including providing a Spanish translation of all communications between Tortora and parents. Faculty will be encouraged to take this step with their own communications with parents, and a translator will be available to them.
“We’re hoping the teachers will take the initiative and start learning Spanish on their own,” said Tortora.
The plan also calls for professional development of teachers to address the needs of English Language Learners students, multicultural recognitions such as the celebration of holidays, and the ability to develop a basic, conversational level of English. At the kindergarten level, incoming students will be taught the connection between the languages through vocabulary, with additional language education in the upper grades. Tortora said it often takes up to six years to develop an academic understanding of a language.
Shannon Lougee, a kindergarten teacher at the school, said she has some understanding of Spanish and will be taking classes to help develop her own skills. In addition, a bilingual aide will be hired to assist with her classes. Her class currently includes the teaching of both English and Spanish vocabulary.
“I think it’s going to be great for these kids,” she said. “It will help their learning and they get so excited when they’re learning two languages.”
The school has also received a grant from the to open a language learning lab with Rosetta Stone software at the school. Tortora said the lab will be open to the public, with times scheduled around classes and other events. The lab will be run in conjunction with the .
“We just want to get people in here and used to it and comfortable with using it, and I think it will grow as time goes by,” said Tortora.
Tortora said that in developing the program, the Diocese of Norwich looked at dual language classes at Catholic schools in Chicago and Baltimore as well as the and in New London.