Archbishop Borders Elementary School—formerly attached to Our Lady of Pompei at 3600 Claremont St.—has moved a couple blocks south, to 3500 Foster Ave. It is now attached to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, between S. Highland Ave. and S. Conkling St.
The move, according to Principal Mary Catherine Marshall, puts the pre-kindergarten-through-grade-8 Catholic school in position to advance its relationship with the Latino community, which in turn benefits the greater community of East Baltimore as as whole.
“(Latinos) are very important to our community,” said Marshall. “We overlook what they bring to us.”
Strong family values, Marshall said, are a hallmark of the culture. “The way the students who are brothers and sisters here look after each other is amazing. It comes naturally to them,” she said.
Archbishop Borders is a bilingual school. In 2010, students in the Pre-K 4 class (pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds) began conducting half of the day Spanish. In the afternoons, Marshall said, the Pre-K students hear stories in Spanish, listen to Spanish music, and are encouraged to play in Spanish.
In the higher grades, students receive 50 percent of their instruction in Spanish.
“Math and the sciences are very easy to teach in Spanish, because the vocabulary is very similar,” said Marshall, noting the Latin origins of much of the terminology.
She emphasized that Borders utilizes a “rolling curriculum.” Students don’t learn about the plant reproduction in English, and then study it again in Spanish—they learn one topic in Spanish, and then they advance to another topic to be learned in English.
Students, do, however, study language arts in both English and Spanish.
The goal, according to Marshall, is that all students be fluent in English and Spanish by the time they graduate grade 8.
“By the time they finish, they should have two languages, and then they can go on to a third,” she said.
But Marshall believes that a bilingual educations gives students more than the ability to speak in two languages.
“The whole bottom line of this program is that students learn to read and write in their first language, and those skills transfer to their second language,” she said.
Marshall said that before Archbishop Borders started its bilingual program, she noticed that Latino students, in many cases, retained their ability to speak Spanish, but “by the time they got to 8th grade, they couldn’t read or write in Spanish.” Furthermore, she said, her Latino students, who had been steadily growing in numbers, were struggling with reading in general as they progressed through the grades.
Bilingual education, Marshall said, both sharpens her students’ skills and gives them an appreciation for each others’ cultures.
While Archbishop Borders started in 2002 with 5 percent of its students Latino, today about 60 percent of its 160 kids are Latino.
“They have a very joyful spirit,” said Marshall. “They kind of breathe fresh new life into things.”
“And of course, there’s their faith,” she added. “They’re very important to the strength of our church.”
She said that Archbishop Borders is a “community school,” a designation which is continuing to evolve. Baltimore City College currently offers English classes in the building, and Marshall hopes that health and other community services will expand over time.
“We want to form more partnerships and have more wraparound services with the school,” she said. “I would love to just make the school alive with services.”
by Erik Zygmont