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eColloquia Newsletter



Landmark dual-language learning launched in Catholic schools

By Rebecca Delaney

Some 500 pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students in Catholic elementary schools across the country took their first steps to global citizenship this fall, starting school in classrooms that are part of the Roche Center for Catholic Education’s new Two-Way Immersion Network for Catholic Schools (TWIN-CS).

In the next three years, 11 Catholic schools in 10 states from Rhode Island to Washington will serve as the first locations for the program, which researches, develops, evaluates, and puts in place dual-language immersion programs in Catholic school classrooms across the United States.

Considered one of the more rigorous and effective approaches to language learning, two-way immersion integrates equal numbers of native English speakers and native speakers of a partner language in classrooms where they are all instructed in both languages. The goal of two-way immersion is not to encourage non-English-speaking students to “replace” their native language with English but to help every enrolled student become fluent and literate in both English and the target language (typically Spanish).

According to Patricia Weitzel-O’Neill, director of the Roche Center, students in TWIN-CS will become not only bilingual but also biliterate and bicultural—preparing them to become culturally sensitive and effective leaders in a multicultural workplace. 

The aims of TWIN-CS—fostering academic excellence, bilingualism, and biliteracy and building cultural competence—continue and build on the traditions of Catholic education in the United States, according to Martin Scanlan, an associate professor at Marquette University, member of the TWIN-CS program design team, and a visiting associate professor of research at the Roche Center this fall.  

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Catholic schools in the 19th and 20th centuries provided affordable, quality education opportunities to immigrants and students from diverse linguistic, cultural, and social backgrounds. But those efforts have fallen short in recent years, said Associate Professor Patrick Proctor, a member of the TWIN-CS design team, who pointed to the burgeoning Latino population in the United States by way of example. “Catholic schools have to better serve this population, and TWIN emerges as one of the more effective means to do this,” he said.

The inaugural initiative of the center’s Innovation Institute for Catholic Educators, TWIN-CS is funded in part by the National Catholic Education Association. It is grounded in research and guided by practitioners from Boston College and other institutions. Five Lynch School graduate students are researching the program’s implementation and measuring its outcome with funding from the Lynch School Warmenhoven Family Endowed Fund for Collaborative Teaching and Research in Catholic Education.

TWIN-CS provides support, mentorship, and coaching to faculty and administrators in its program network, said Kristin Melley, associate director of the Roche Center. Participants bounce ideas off each other in a private social media platform, and can attend formal and informal webinars. To kick off the program, they networked at a summer academy and forum.

At this point, said Melley, “A number of Catholic schools are watching this with great interest, asking, ‘When can we join?’”  

With reason, according to Weitzel-O’Neill. “Families want their children to be global citizens.”