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SoCal Catholic school reborn through immersion

July 13, 2013

Bilingual education gives Alhambra Catholic school new life

Mandarin teacher Mandy Chou shows students how to add. | Photos by Alfred DiciocoMandarin teacher Mandy Chou shows students how to add. | Photos by Alfred Dicioco
July 11, 2013Alfred Dicioco Reporter

The kindergarten and first grade combination class at All Souls Elementary School may seem like a typical Alhambra classroom. At 8 a.m. the diverse group of kids — Chinese, Hispanic, Caucasian, Thai, Vietnamese, and Filipino — are already bouncing with energy, playing with stuffed toys and picture books. Posters of the alphabet and numbers hang on the walls, and the teacher, Mandy Chou, hustles to gather the students at the beginning of the school day.

The Mandarin class says a morning prayer.The Mandarin class says a morning prayer.

But when Chou calls them to attention, the students immediately stand up, put their palms together, and face the crucifix on the wall to recite a prayer in Mandarin.

Growing up in the Philippines, my Catholic bilingual education was the norm. Most Filipino private and public schools start their day with a school-wide prayer before students learn English and Tagalog in the classroom. I never expected to find a similar teaching approach in Southern California, but bilingual education is a growing trend, even right here in Alhambra.

The Mandarin class practices adding and subtracting.The Mandarin class practices adding and subtracting.

Bilingual education, or dual immersion, gave All Souls a second wind. After teaching San Gabriel Valley students for more than 90 years, the private school on Main Street and Electric Avenue closed its classrooms in 2010 due to low enrollment following the recession. But in 2012, the school re-launched with a limited K-1 bilingual program. Out of the 200 Catholic elementary schools in Southern California, it remains the only one that offers a dual immersion program in Spanish and Mandarin, according to All Souls Principal Anne Bouvet.

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