Is Your Mama a Llama?

¿Tu mamá es una llama?

Next school year, some Omaha area preschoolers could be hearing this story and other favorites both ways.

The Archdiocese of Omaha plans to launch its first dual-language education program next school year, teaching children as young as 3 years old in both Spanish and English.

Students who stick with the program through eighth grade will learn both languages, an advantage for college and the workplace, according to Donna Bishop, assistant superintendent of archdiocesan schools.

“It truly fits our long-range vision of what’s best for students,” Bishop said.

The launch comes as Catholic educators across the country look for ways to better serve growing Hispanic communities.

The Omaha Public Schools have offered dual-language programs at select schools for years, starting in kindergarten and continuing in high school.

The archdiocese program will be called the Omaha Catholic School Consortium Dual Language Academy.

The archdiocese will house the early childhood portion of the program at St. Stanislaus Catholic School, 41st and J Streets. That school closed in 2013 when the archdiocese reorganized schools in eastern Omaha.

The St. Stanislaus site will enroll preschool, pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students. Officials hope to enroll 50 students in each grade level.

The plan is for half the students in each class to be native English speakers and half to be native Spanish speakers.

Those students will eventually feed into dual-language tracks that will be created as needed for first through eighth grades at Sts. Peter and Paul and Our Lady of Lourdes schools.

Both Sts. Peter and Paul and Our Lady of Lourdes will continue to offer all-English tracks as well.

The dual-language educational model integrates native English speakers and native Spanish speakers for all or most of the day.

Dual-language subjects will include math, science, social studies, reading and writing. The religion curriculum will be taught in English. Students will learn prayers in both languages.

Officials said that in addition to enhancing cross-cultural understanding, dual-language programs boost academic achievement.

Immersing kids early should enhance students’ academic growth, they said.

The archdiocese has partnered with Boston College, a Catholic university, on the startup of the new program.

Officials with the archdiocese applied for and were selected by Boston College to join a 26-member national network of Catholic schools that offer dual-language instruction.

The archdiocese will have a five-year partnership with the college’s Two-Way Immersion Network for Catholic Schools, which will provide training and mentoring for the Omaha educators.

In a 2016 report, Boston College researchers noted the importance of Catholic schools reaching out to Hispanic families.

Although more than 40 percent of the Catholics in the country are Hispanic, researchers said, only 4 percent of school-age Hispanic Catholic children attend U.S. Catholic schools.

Researchers said dual-language schools are making a remarkable difference in their engagement of Hispanic families and children.

The schools “score the highest in terms of bilingual and bicultural faculty, the highest engagement of Hispanic families, and the highest levels of incorporation of Hispanic cultural and religious traditions,” the report said.

Total enrollment in Omaha archdiocesan schools as of last fall was 19,861, of which 1,719 were Hispanic students.

The archdiocese will begin taking enrollment applications Jan. 22 for families in the 16 consortium parishes and on Jan. 29 for the general public. For more information, parents can call 402-557-5600 (English) or 402-557-5570 (Spanish).

joe.dejka@owh.com, 402-444-1077

Joe covers education for The World-Herald, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school. Phone: 402-444-1077.

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