Article by Kara Lemma, Ph.D., Former Program Officer, Catholic Sisters Initiative

As the bell rings at the beginning of the day at St. Patrick Dual Language Immersion Catholic School in North Hollywood, California, four- and five-year-old transitional kindergartners gather on the carpet to listen intently to their teacher read the Spanish language book “My Friends / Mis Amigos.” The students are all ears as they learn about finding friends in unusual places.

The Dual Language Immersion (DLI) approach to education is rooted in the belief that students need to develop skills so that they are bilingual, biliterate, bicultural and formed in Catholic values to be better prepared as the next generation of global leaders. Students at St. Patrick’s learn the fundamentals of both Spanish and English through language instruction that encompasses immersion in all of their studies, not simply as an “add-on” subject area.

As one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse cities in the country, it is no surprise that the demand for the DLI model of Catholic education has soared here in Los Angeles. To respond to the call, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Department of Catholic Schools forged a partnership in 2015 to support the development and implementation of the DLI approach to education. The Hilton Foundation’s pledge to support Catholic schools is anchored on the premise that investing in innovative approaches, such as DLI, will give parents more opportunities to provide their children with advantages in life. The Archdiocese opened its first DLI school in 2012 and, to date, the number of schools has increased to eight. There are plans to open several more in the coming years.

You might be asking yourself, “How do DLI schools build support for their programs?” DLI schools in the Archdiocese are linked in two ways: locally, through the Archdiocesan network; and nationally, with the Two-Way Immersion Network for Catholic Schools through Boston College’s Roche Center for Catholic Education, which has formed a network of 18 schools across the country. Networks like these provide DLI implementation support for schools interested in transitioning from a traditional Catholic school mode of education to a DLI one. They also provide coaching and support so that parents, teachers and school administrators can measure the impact of the educational model on student learning and offer implementation and assessment support to these schools.

Finally, as we celebrate National Catholic Educational Association’s annual Catholic Schools Week, the Foundation acknowledges the commitment of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to support students in their efforts to – in the spirit of this year’s theme – “Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed.”