Martin Scanlan

Early in his career, Associate Professor Martin Scanlan became interested in the ways that Catholic schools in the United States have served students from immigrant families. During the influx of immigrants from Ireland and southern Europe during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, he notes, Catholic schools built a tradition of welcoming newcomers and helping them transition into school, neighborhood, and parish life. At the Lynch School, Scanlan is working to revive that mission of service in the twenty-first century.

Scanlan joined the Lynch School’s Department of Educational Leadership and Higher Education in September 2015 after serving for two years as visiting associate professor at the Lynch School and the Boston College Roche Center for Catholic Education.

As lead design team member of the Roche Center for Catholic Education’s Two-Way Immersion Network for Catholic Schools (TWIN-CS), Scanlan is spearheading a nationwide network of Catholic schools that are incorporating a novel and dynamic approach to language learning into their elementary school curricula. The goal is to build programs that give young students the ability to speak, read, and write fluently in both English and a second language while fostering academic excellence and cross-cultural understanding.

Considered one of the more rigorous and effective approaches to second-language learning, two-way immersion brings together fairly equal numbers of native English speakers and native speakers of a partner language (typically Spanish or Mandarin) in classrooms. Subject material is taught in both languages, and students spend an equal amount of time with each. Two-way immersion aims not to encourage students to “replace” their native languages with English, but to help every student become fluent and literate in both English and a target language.

“We structure our schools with the goal of having every student leave bilingual,” says Scanlan. He believes that the goals of TWIN-CS build on traditions of equality and service in Catholic education, promoting “affirmation of the immigrants, affirmation of the family, and affirmation of the language.” To help schools in the TWIN-CS network implement the program in their classrooms, the Roche Center provides professional development through an online resource portal and biweekly webinars as well as funding to hire a local two-way immersion expert consultant—resources that would otherwise cost a school some $22,000 each year, according to Scanlan.

Besides offering students the practical benefits of being bilingual in an increasingly globalized world, Scanlan suggests, the two-way immersion environment can help non-native English speakers feel a sense of pride in the languages they speak at home and the cultures from which they come.

David Card, the president of Escuela de Guadalupe, a Denver, Colorado, school that has been a member of the TWIN-CS network since its inception, says that one of the lasting effects of two-way immersion is a long-term boost in students’ confidence. It comes, he says, from being taught, explicitly and implicitly, that their native language is every bit as valuable as English. “Learning multiple languages is great for anyone,” Card says. But it is especially valuable for the children at his school who primarily speak Spanish at home—roughly half of the student body. “What we’re finding as they become adolescents,” he says, “is that they have many fewer identity questions and a lot more reserves and self-belief.”

At a time when more than nine percent of students in American public schools speak a native language other than English, it is not surprising that the number of immersion programs in the country has expanded during the last 25 years. According to the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, D.C., there were 30 documented two-way immersion programs in K–12 schools in the United States in 1987; during the 2014–15 school year, the center’s directory listed 458 public and private schools with the programs.

Owing in part to federal funding for language immersion programs that was first put in place with the Bilingual Education Act of 1968, the majority of two-way-immersion programs implemented in the country so far have been in public and charter schools. As a result, “Catholic schools that execute such programs can feel isolated,” according to Carrie Fuller, principal of All Souls, a Chinese and Spanish language immersion school near Los Angeles. She is also a Lynch School doctoral student who worked with the Roche Center to lay groundwork for the network. For Card, whose school had been running a dual-immersion program for 14 years before it joined TWIN-CS, the network represents a “family” of peer institutions.

The TWIN-CS network provides a way for Catholic schools that have two-way immersion programs or are interested in implementing a program to connect with one another and share research, resources, ideas, and stories. The network launched in 2012 with a cohort of 11 schools, and quickly began to attract interest from others. In June of this year, when some 140 TWIN-CS teachers and administrators from across the country gathered for a week of workshops and professional development at the third annual Summer Academy, the network had grown to include 17 schools, with two additional schools embarking on yearlong evaluation periods. There is also a waiting list of schools hoping to join the network.

Many of the schools in the network, including Card’s Escuela de Guadalupe and Fuller’s All Souls School, established dual-language immersion programs to serve the needs of multilingual and multicultural communities. Most operate two-way immersion programs that combine English and Spanish. But two—All Souls and Most Holy Redeemer in Flushing, N.Y.—offer dual-immersion tracks in English and Mandarin, with All Souls offering both English-Spanish and English-Chinese programs. Fuller says the side-by-side immersion programs at All Souls have built bridges among three communities at the school: native speakers of English, Chinese, and Spanish.

Fostering intercultural exchange is one of the explicit aims of the TWIN-CS network and the scholarship around it. It has been a focus of Scanlan’s research and work throughout his career. The coauthor of two textbooks on leadership in diverse schools, Scanlan has also published more than two dozen articles in academic journals on educational leadership, diversity and inclusivity in schools, and services for students with special needs, among other topics.

The two-way immersion environment can help non-native English speakers feel a sense of pride in the languages they speak at home and the cultures from which they come.


At this year’s Summer Academy, Scanlan and his colleagues led professional development workshops on topics such as connecting with parents of children in two-way immersion schools and getting them to engage in their child’s language education, organizing regional meet-ups between schools in the network, assessing students’ success, planning dual-language lessons, using technology in two-way immersion classrooms, and others.

Scanlan is one of the most highly regarded leaders in Catholic education, says Roche Center Executive Director Patricia Weitzel-O’Neill. He completed his Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy analysis in 2005 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, before joining the faculty at Marquette University. A veteran teacher and administrator, he is recognized for his scholarship on social justice in religious schools. As the Roche Center team explored the possibility of creating a nationwide network of two-way immersion schools, they drew on a 2010 article that Scanlan had published in Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice on the benefits of two-way immersion in a Catholic context. Soon thereafter, they invited Scanlan, then an associate professor at Marquette University, to join the Lynch School as a visiting associate professor in 2013.

Now that he has permanently joined the faculty at Boston College, Scanlan teaches at both the master’s and doctoral levels in educational leadership. This fall he is leading the course Organizational Theory and Learning and in the spring he will teach Topics in Catholic Education, Law and Education Reform, and Family and Community Engagement.

With the initial cohort of schools in the TWIN-CS network up and running and a new group preparing to launch programs this fall, Scanlan and a team of researchers at the Roche Center are beginning to compile and study data to measure the program’s effectiveness in achieving its aims and inform future research. Schools also perform rigorous annual self-analysis to determine if they are meeting their goals. Scanlan says that most schools in the network report increases in enrollment and a high level of parent satisfaction with the two-way immersion model. He is optimistic about both the growth and effectiveness of the network and the research that all this incoming data is making possible, which focuses on bilingualism and biliteracy, the efficacy of the network, and the role that Catholic values play in two-way immersion schools. Weitzel-O’Neill says that the Roche Center expects the network to continue expanding in upcoming years.

To Scanlan, the work of TWIN-CS represents not a new departure for Catholic schools, but rather a revival of their “long and rich history of serving children of families who are traditionally marginalized and immigrant families.” This history, he suggests, positions these schools to lead the way in providing inclusive services to a new generation of immigrant families.