January 22, 2020

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Keeping Ukrainian in the classroom

Bilingual education on rise in province

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/6/2012 (2769 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Happy Thought School's Grade 2 class in traditional dress with mascot Petrusia Perogy.


Happy Thought School's Grade 2 class in traditional dress with mascot Petrusia Perogy.

Seriously, how many public school subjects have a peripatetic perogy promoting them provincewide?

Petrusia Perogy is the No. 1 fan of Ukrainian bilingual programs, and let's see pre-cal or biology match that.

Petrusia works out of Happy Thought School in East Selkirk, visiting schools, reading to kids in Ukrainian and appearing in parades.

Advocates of Ukrainian bilingual education say interest is picking up after years of decline, thanks in large part to immigration, but the numbers are still relatively low — fewer than 600 kids in six school divisions, only one class as high as Grade 9.

"We are so fortunate to have what we have. I've seen what it does for families, it's language, it's communities," said Susan Zuk, president of Manitoba Parents for a Ukrainian Education. "Parents from all these communities meet each other and become friends."

Nancy Lovenjak, principal at Happy Thought, one of the province's most successful Ukrainian bilingual programs, said children come to her school from as far away as Clandeboye and St. Andrews. For some children, Ukrainian is a first language, for many of them a language they hear spoken at home only from their "baba" (grandmother).

Those kids move on to pick up French and Spanish with far greater ease than unilingual students, said Lovenjak.

"All three of my Ukrainian teachers come from Ukraine," Lovenjak said. Happy Thought turned a multipurpose room into a Ukrainian museum.

Zuk said the Ukrainian bilingual program started with one Manitoba school in 1980 and has grown from there.

While an attempt to start a public high school a decade ago couldn't get the necessary student numbers, "There's been more talk of parents wanting to go up to Grade 12," Zuk said. "There has been more talk of expansion — St. Vital, St. James, Brandon."

Lovenjak said students split their day between English and Ukrainian, taking science, math and language arts in English.

"We're not immersion, we're bilingual. You have to celebrate language — it's the doorway to understanding," she said.

Lovenjak now has three students whose parents were in the Ukrainian bilingual program at Happy Thought as children.

"Parents don't realize they bus" from anywhere within the six divisions to the nearest Ukrainian program in that division, Zuk said.

Alberta has a Ukrainian public high school, she said, and Ontario just hosted a national conference of Ukrainian bilingual educators. Teachers here have at least two professional development days a year.

"There's sharing of curriculum between Manitoba and Alberta," Zuk pointed out.

And meanwhile, the MPUE and Petrusia Perogy will continue to set up booths in malls and at baby shows to spread the word.



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