Spanish bilingual program registration underway in Winnipeg School Division

The Winnipeg School Division is offering three new bilingual programs this fall- Spanish, Cree and Ojibway. An open house for the Spanish program will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Earl Grey School on Cockburn.

WSD says 20 children must be registered by Jan. 29 in order for program to go ahead

Winnipeg mother Eugenia Lehmann, left, with her son Keenan, 11. She says while her son is too old to benefit from a Spanish bilingual program, she is thrilled others will have the opportunity. (Submitted by Eugenia Lehmann)

Parents who want their child to learn Spanish may soon be able to send them to an bilingual program in the Winnipeg School Division.

In December, the school division approved plans for three new bilingual language programs. The Spanish program was approved for Earl Grey School in Fort Rouge, where an open house will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

The WSD has said 20 children must be registered by Jan. 29 in order for the program to go ahead. So far there are four.

​"We need parents to come out and show that they really do want this program by registering their children tonight. We are the first in Winnipeg to have a Spanish bilingual program," said Radean Carter, the school division's public relations officer.

Moms make it happen

It was the work of dedicated parents who wanted Spanish education options that got the program this far.

Eugenia Lehmann, who came to Canada from Mexico when she was two and spoke Spanish at home, teamed up with another mother to push for the program in Winnipeg schools.

She'd already started a Spanish preschool play group because her cultural and language are an important part of her identity, she said. 

She submitted a 30-page proposal to the school division and polled people in the community before the WSD gave its approval for the program.

"When I found out in December, I was crying with a friend on the phone, I was so happy. I am really excited and overjoyed," said Lehmann. 

It's too late for her 11-year-old son to benefit and she lives in River East School Division, but Lehmann is thrilled the program will finally be available.

"To be able to say I am leaving a legacy for others in the community, for people who want to enhance their Spanish or non-speaking families who want to learn, it's kind of surreal to know you are part of something much greater than yourself," she said.

Bigger plans

Lehmann will be at the meeting tonight answer questions with Kathy Heppner, the other mom who worked to get the program approved.

The two moms will also hold an open house at Glenwood Community Centre on Sunday at 2 p.m. with a much bigger focus. 

They want to get other divisions on board, talk about adding a late-entry program and form a Spanish Bilingual Parents Association.

The WSD said if they hit the registration target, they will hire teachers and approve a curriculum.

The division is also offering bilingual programs in Cree and Ojibway at Isaac Brock School. Open houses for those program will be held next week.