Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Group campaigning for Spanish-immersion school

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What's different about the latest attempt to establish a public Spanish-immersion school in Winnipeg?

Numbers, for one. Families representing as many as 250 children like the idea, organizer Kathy Heppner said.

This time around, more than two-thirds of the proponents have English as a first language.

And the parents aren't demanding they be provided school space in an affluent neighbourhood.

Working largely through social media, the Winnipeg Spanish-immersion group has more than 100 families onside and is hopping around the city appearing as a delegation at school board meetings making a pitch for a school -- Pembina Trails and River East-Transcona so far, Winnipeg school board today, and others still to come.

"For the last year, we've been drumming up support through social media," Heppner said.

She and fellow organizer Eugenia Lehmann are asking trustees to start a Spanish-language program next fall in one of the many city schools that has significant empty space -- kindergarten and Grade 1 the first year, along with a late-entry immersion program somewhere between grades 4 and 7. The program would add another grade each year.

They're asking for a Spanish equivalent to the French-immersion programs throughout Winnipeg, Heppner said.

"Spanish is a growing language in the world for commerce," she said. About 70 per cent of the group has parents who speak a first language other than Spanish.

"My background is Guyanese and German," she said. "I worked with an NGO in a Spanish-speaking country for three years," where her family learned Spanish.

Any division that agreed to start a Spanish program would provide busing to students -- parents from other divisions using schools of choice would have to get their kids to the school.

The interested families are scattered throughout Winnipeg, and, said Heppner, "of the families, 88 per cent said they would transport their kids" to another division. She said there would be 30 children ready to enrol in kindergarten in the fall and 28 in Grade 1. There are 20 ready to start Spanish in Grade 4 and 17 in Grade 7.

The group can be contacted through its Winnipeg-Spanish Immersion Facebook page, or at Winnipegspanishimmersion.blogspot.com.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 25, 2013 A5

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