NO BOUNDARIES: The Dual Language Immersion Program at St. Paul School

NO BOUNDARIES: The Dual Language Immersion Program at St. Paul School


By Philip Rebentisch

In many ways, we lead our lives within ever-present boundaries. Sometimes they are self-imposed. They can also be redlining on a map, divisions in neighborhoods, differences in language or culture, and lack of access to opportunities. History teaches us that boundaries can be moved, changed, or transcended, and education has always played a role. The Dual Language Immersion program at St. Paul’s School is laying the foundation to be the change for its students, their families, and their communities.

St. Paul School Celebrates 95 Years of Creating a United Community, One Student at a Time

The St. Paul Parish recently celebrated its centennial and the school is on its way. St. Paul School celebrates being a proverbial melting pot of families emigrating from Central and South America, Korea, even Ethiopia and Nigeria. Most of the Korean parents speak Spanish either because they immigrated from Spanish speaking countries, or they serve Spanish-speaking customers. As part of the St. Paul community, parents of all backgrounds want their children to be educated in Spanish, but this has not always been the case.

In an effort to assimilate into American culture, many immigrant parents did not raise their children to speak Spanish or teach them their heritage and culture. The DLI program is changing this reality. Speaking Spanish is now seen as a positive, even a source of pride, and not a negative, something to be hidden. The DLI program has changed perceived cultural norms, and today, students are no longer embarrassed that their parents speak with an accent.

What we nurture here is faith formation and academic excellence – Linda Guzman, Principal.

Dual language immersion, or DLI, is an educational program that teaches academic content in two separate languages throughout the day. At St. Paul’s, a “50/50 model” is currently used for the Transitional Kindergarten (TK) and Kindergarten students. Native English speakers are immersed in Spanish to be biliterate and bilingual, while native Spanish speakers improve their Spanish skills and become biliterate and bilingual in English. Social Studies, Religion and English Language Arts are taught in English, while Spanish Language Arts, Math, and Science are taught in Spanish. The program hopes to expand to additional grades in the 2018-19 school year.

We educate the whole child, academically, spiritually, and emotionally – Judith Chavez, TK Teacher

The Spanish language is one of warmth, and the school day begins on a spiritual note with prayers in Spanish. Teaching kindness, inclusiveness, and a respect for diversity are the spiritual and emotional centerpieces of the DLI program. The school’s philosophy is that students have a family at home and have a family at school and they are encouraged to be kind, learn together, and be one community of both class and culture.
The academic priorities are bilingualism, biliteracy and biculturalism. Research studies provide demonstrable evidence time and again that DLI programs provide a solid educational foundation so that upon graduation, students are speaking, reading, listening and learning in both English and Spanish. The benefits throughout the students’ academic careers are tangible and measurable for:

” Language proficiency in both English and Spanish.
” Improved communication ability and enhanced listening skills.
” Understanding and acceptance of other cultures through the study of language.
” DLI students exceed performance standards of monolinguist learners.
” Far better preparation for U.S. and worldwide career paths.

Now I Understand What Grandma Says and She Prays with Me – St. Paul Student

In a recent survey, 80% of St. Paul parents love the DLI program and feel it is has made significant improvements in their relationships with their children. While there is pride in using the language at home, the academic element provided by St. Paul is key to the familial discourse. In short, if the parents’ English skills are not well developed and their kids’ Spanish abilities are not vibrant, this of course leads to communication issues at every level. Lost in translation is not just a concept, it can be a reality.

In the DLI program, students are not just improving conversational Spanish, they are learning “Academic Spanish” which is a higher, more formal standard in comparison to conversational Spanish. It also reaches across different Spanish dialects. This results in improved feelings of self-worth, self-identity, and empowerment for the entire family and the community. Parents can communicate with their children, and there is a sense of confidence in the parents when communicating with their children. A heartwarming story involves a father who was an engineer in Guatemala, immigrated to U.S., and is now in food service. Prior to the DLI program, he could not communicate with his child and today is thrilled that he can help with her math and science studies in Spanish.

A Catholic school education not only offers the opportunity to grow academically, but we also build a strong moral and faith foundation – Phillipa Fernando, 5-8th Grade Science Teacher

In contrast to most public schools, St Paul provides small class environments that results in one-on-one time with students and their families. But there is more to this story; teachers have genuine relationships with the students and make every student feel special. This is not “conveyor belt education” and the students, teachers, and school faculty all reap the joys and rewards of this reality. If a teacher accidently reverts into English during a Spanish subject, students are quick to correct them (some would say cheerfully chide them), much to the pride and satisfaction of the teachers. While the DLI program currently ends after Kindergarten at St. Paul, teachers firmly believe that the DLI’s benefits are imprinted on their students. It is second nature and part of who they are as a person.

There is a sense of responsibility to do well – St. Paul Students

In talking with some of the students in the higher grades, one is quick to note that they genuinely love the school, and not just recess! There is a shared passion to do well in school, to build positive character traits, and both girls and boys exude confidence with firm handshakes and eye contact. They also have a sense that the teachers provide a caring environment and know who they are as individuals.

Jesus was kind to everybody, that’s how we want to be– Judith Chavez, TK Teacher

Faith is of course important at St. Paul School, but so is making friends from diverse cultures. One older Nigerian student that not was part of the DLI program sometimes feels confused with the Spanish language, yet his fellow students ensure he feels welcome at the school, that he is not an outsider. This spiritual lesson of no boundaries is universal and begins with one student at a time. This philosophy, combined with the proven academic benefits of the DLI program, make the St. Paul School a special school. This is especially true when you consider the current state of Los Angeles public schools. Join the family at St. Paul School where you will be welcomed with open arms and open minds.

To learn more about enrollment, click here, or call at 323-734-4022.

St. Paul Catholic School is a TK through 8th grade school serving the Los Angeles, California area. 1908 S. Bronson Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90018.

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