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Loyola helps develop Archdiocese of Baltimore’s first dual-language program

| By Stephanie Weaver
Archbishop Borders School
Archbishop Borders School in Highlandtown is the first school in the Archdiocese of Baltimore to have a dual-language program, a form of bilingual education in which students are taught literacy and content in two languages.

Loyola University Maryland and Archbishop Borders School have partnered to help develop and improve the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s first dual-language program, a form of bilingual education in which students are taught literacy and content in two languages.

In 2010, Archbishop Borders School, in Baltimore’s Highlandtown neighborhood, saw a need for a dual-language program in their school and community. The area has seen an increase in Spanish-speaking residents. The school partnered with the Roche Center of Boston College and their Two-Way Immersion Network for Catholic Schools (TWIN-CS). The initiative, involving 15 Catholic schools across the nation, is led by Boston College faculty and other university researchers, including Margarita Zisselsberger, Ph.D., assistant professor in literacy education at Loyola.

Zisselsberger earned her doctorate at Boston College, and was hired at Loyola in 2012. She became the faculty member in residence at Archbishop Borders shortly after her arrival.

“It was serendipitous that I got hired at Loyola,” she said of her TWIN-CS connection.

Through the TWIN-CS network, Zisselsberger says she’s a mentor and supporter. She helps Archbishop Borders faculty prepare for dual-language in the classroom, while focusing on the academic development of the whole school.

The current TWIN program serves pre-k through third grade, but Zisselsberger is working to create curriculum to serve all elementary and middle grade levels. And Archbishop Borders has taken on the challenge, adding one new grade level each year. Fourth grade will be added for the 2015-2016 academic year.

For Zisselsberger, the dual-language component in the classroom is personal. Her parents came to America as immigrants – her mother from Cuba and her father from Spain. Both were English language learners. Their struggles opened her eyes.

“My mother and uncles particularly struggled with education because they were in a sink-or-swim model. They mastered English, but they still struggled with certain aspects of it. They were placed in grade levels behind just because of language, and were often bored and got into trouble. Imagine what the possibilities could have been if they had a more informed school personnel.”

When she first began teaching, Zisselsberger taught a bilingual class in California. Her interest stemmed from language and literacy development, and how using a native language enhanced learning additional languages.

“Most of my students were of Latino heritage. The ones that had strong literacy skills in their native language tended to do better when they were learning English—that really stuck with me. If you build on those concepts, you really can do more.”

The approach at Archbishop Borders is a 50-50 model, meaning the students get an equal dose of both English and Spanish each week in all content areas—math, science, social studies, and English. In the classroom, teachers focus on English for two days, Spanish for two days, and rotate which language is the focus on Fridays.

And the program is gaining popularity beyond Baltimore; one family drives from Annapolis to attend the school because they were impressed with the dual-language program, Zisselsberger said.

Archbishop Borders is one of four Catholic schools Loyola partners with through Loyola’s Institute for Urban Catholic Education. Each school has a faculty member in residence, focusing on their expertise, to enhance academic development.

“This partnership highlights both Loyola and Archbishop Borders School as institutions that are willing to look inward and explore our own practices in the name of developing stronger instructional and research programs,” Cathy Marshall, principal at Archbishop Borders School, said. 

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