Winnipeg Filipino bilingual K-3 program could be 1st in Canada

Winnipeg Filipino bilingual K-3 program could be 1st in Canada

A Filipino bilingual elementary school program is close to becoming a reality in Winnipeg.

Seven Oaks School Division is currently accepting registration for children entering kindergarten to Grade 3 next fall for the program, which they believe would be the first of its kind in Canada.

Ivy Lopez Sarmiento, one of the parents who has advocated for the program, has signed up her twin daughters, Isabel and Anabel.

"They were born in Canada, they're being raised in Canada — I don't want them to lose identity," she said. "I want them to be proud of the fact that they are Filipino-Canadian."

The program is open to all early years students. Half of the Manitoba curriculum will be taught in Filipino and the other half in English.

Porfiria Pedrina, a teacher and president of the Seven Oaks Filipino Employees Association, said Filipino will be the language of instruction in social studies, music, art and physical education. 

"The emphasis will be on Filipino culture and history for this program," she said.

Students need to sign up before May

However, the program still needs support from parents. In order for the division to give it the green light, a full class size of roughly 18 students would be required for each grade.

Brian O'Leary, superintendent of the division, said the target needs to be met by April 30 in order to have proper staffing in place by the fall.

"We are very optimistic we are going to implement this," Pedrina said.

Registration forms are available at every early years school in the division and 15 students are already signed up for kindergarten and Grade 1. 

Winnipeg is home to more than 76,000 people of Filipino descent, the 2016 census results say. 

Lopez Sarmiento said the opportunity to connect children with culture and language will be a big benefit to the community. 

"Both for newcomers, first generation, second generation and third generation," she said. "I'm second generation, and my husband is second generation as well, and [our girls] don't have much of an opportunity to comprehend and learn the language [at home]."

Her own parents immigrated to Manitoba from the Philippines in the late 1970s. She wishes there was a program like this offered when she was growing up.

"I have a hard time speaking the language. I can speak slowly and I can understand Tagalog and another dialect, but I wish that I could speak more fluently, and a part of that, I think, is not being able to learn properly and having that opportunity at a young age." 

She hopes when her girls travel to the Philippines one day, they will be able to connect with their roots.

"[I hope] that they'll be able to relate to the environment, to the culture and be proud of their identity and really love the country," she said.