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Catholic school to make Little Rock preschool students bilingual

Students at the Saint Theresa Catholic School are currently learning English and Spanish, but soon they'll learn even more languages not native to them.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Learning a new language can be challenging, and research shows it's harder to learn with age.

One Catholic school in Little Rock will soon teach classes in English and Spanish to remove language barriers for our littlest learners.

In Silvia Patlan's pre-k classroom at Saint Theresa Catholic School, you'll find students learning words in both English and Spanish, but soon, they'll learn even more languages not native to them.

"E clip, Early Childhood Language Immersion program is a specific bilingual pre-K program that we're excited to onboard," St. Theresa Principal Kristy Dunn said. "It involves explicit direct Spanish instruction every day for 30 minutes."

Dunn said the program, provided through the University of Notre Dame, will be significant for the young students. 

"The data supports that native Spanish speakers will then make connections between the Spanish instruction and the English instruction, which prepares them to be ready to read in kindergarten for non-Spanish speakers," Dunn said. "They will acquire the language at the age at which they're most receptive to language acquisition."

According to Dunn, 75% of the school's 207 students do not speak English as their primary language.

Her goal is to have all the preschoolers become fully fluent and bilingual. 

Patlan agreed and looks forward to adding more Spanish to her curriculum. 

"Some of my kids that start pre-k don't speak English, so it's good for them to have someone who speaks Spanish to understand," Patlan said. "Help them understand both languages, Spanish and English."

Plus, her English-speaking students are already picking up some Spanish. 

"It will be great for the kids to continue learning both languages," Patlan said. 

Saint Theresa is one of two Catholic schools in the state with the program. It will officially roll out in the 2023-2024 school year.

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