Hola, niños: A new bilingual preschool is opening in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS • A new Catholic preschool will teach children to read and speak in English and Spanish .

St. Cecilia Catholic Church, which already operates a school for kindergarten through eighth grade, will be opening the bilingual St. Teresita preschool at the church Sept. 10.

Learning two languages — especially in early childhood — has many benefits for children, including the development of strong thinking skills and the ability to focus and remember, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Yolanda Diaz, coordinator of religious education at St. Cecilia, has been advocating for such a preschool for many years. Diaz owned a school in Argentina for 24 years and wants to put her experience to work here.

“It is the time to learn a language when you are in early childhood,” Diaz said.

At St. Teresita, children will be taught to speak and read in English and Spanish at the same time.

Diaz was motivated to open a bilingual preschool not only to encourage language skills in children but also to teach acceptance and understanding at a young age.

“At this moment, not only as a church but as human beings, we have to do something to be more tolerant,” Diaz said, adding that bringing together Spanish-speaking children and English-speaking children will help mend divides.

“The idea is to have both so they will learn about each other,” Diaz said.

Preschoolers also will be introduced to different subjects. Diaz is hiring teachers who have backgrounds in art, music, theater, dancing and sports to give her pupils variety in learning, she said.

“Theater and music are two things that we are going to emphasize,” Diaz said.

The preschool will operate from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. to accommodate working parents. Diaz said about 25 students have enrolled so far, though she is prepared for as many as 50.

Half of those who have enrolled are native Spanish speakers. The other half are children whose parents want their children to know both languages and learn more about Catholicism, Diaz said. Most of the children enrolled at the preschool are members of the parish.

Neyra Núñez belongs to the parish and has enrolled her daughter, Genevieve, at St. Teresita.

“I want her to speak both Spanish and English,” Núñez said. “We only speak Spanish at home, and she doesn’t even know anything about English.”