To set a solid foundation of language and culture while increasing preschool enrollment, the Alliance for Catholic Education at the University of Notre Dame and the Archdiocese of Chicago will launch Early Childhood Language Intensive Preschool (ECLIP), a pilot program that offers intensive daily instruction in core studies in Spanish, Polish or Chinese Mandarin to Pre-K students.
Learning two languages at such a young age builds a strong foundation for students who are raised in a non-English-speaking household and provides an excellent opportunity for those from English-speaking homes to learn about new cultures.
“The research is solid that when you reach students at the Pre-K level with multilingual instruction, it tends to stay with them in later years,” said Dr. Katy Lichon, ACE’s director of the Catholic School Advantage and English as a New Language programs. “Moreover, the stronger you are in your first language, like Spanish, the stronger you’ll be in learning a second or third language.”
Eight schools will offer 30 minutes to an hour of daily core lessons in Spanish: Annunciata, St. Bartholomew; St. Bede the Venerable; St. Mary of the Angels; Our Lady of Guadalupe; St. Nicholas of Tolentine; St. Richard’s and Pope John XXIII. St. Therese will offer a curriculum in Chinese Mandarin and St. Zachary will provide instruction in Polish.
The program is already drawing a lot of interest from parents who had been reluctant to enroll their children in preschool because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What a wonderful opportunity this is to help our youngest students learn great language skills, as well as learn great openness to other cultures and races,” said Fr. John Waiss, the pastor of St. Mary of the Angels Parish.
Dr. Molly Cinnamon, principal at Pope John XXIII, said the program provides her school the opportunity to attract Spanish-speaking families from the parish who might not have seen her school as an option. Pope John XXIII will be offering core instruction in Spanish to 3- and 4-year-old preschool classes in the fall.
“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 a day in core subjects like math and reading that will be taught in Spanish. Getting to our kids at the age of 3 or 4, bridges a real important connection to their home. The kids from Spanish-speaking homes will hold onto their native language longer and this will set the foundation for them to build literacy, so they can not only speak in their first language but learn to read and write in it along with English.”
The archdiocesan Office of Catholic Schools began working with ACE last fall to develop this curriculum, which is intended to be expanded to other schools in future years along with scaling up dual-language instruction at other grade levels, said Erika Gallardo, Hispanic Engagement and Outreach Manager at the archdiocese. Many other schools are already showing interest in incorporating the curriculum in the future.