Ivy Lopez Sarmiento (second from right to left) with her twins Isabel (left) and Anabel (right) and her mother Tessie Lopez Harrison (far left) who immigrated from the Philippines when she was just 20 years old. (PHOTO BY LIGIA BRAIDOTTI, Winnipeg Free Press)

Winnipeg, Manitoba

Is it the death of the Filipino language program?


By Ted Alcuitas

Why is it that a community of 80,000 Filipino-Canadians cannot sustain a Filipino bilingual program?

Why can’t the community this size not come up with 20 students in kindergarten and 20 in Grades 2 and 3?

The first Filipino bilingual program in the country is facing closure if not enough students are enrolled by the end of this month, school officials say.

The program at A. E. Wright School in Winnipeg’s Seven Oaks School Division was implemented last year, the first of its kind in the country.

Educators and community supporters are calling on kababayans to help keep the program alive by enrolling their children.

“We’re appealing to the parents and everybody in the Seven Oaks community and school division to support this culture and cultural language,” said Socorro ‘Coring’ Juan, a bilingual program advocate.

Ivy Lopez-Sarmiento, a parent of twin daughters who attended the program in its inaugural year, hopes the program can continue.

Sarmiento claims there is hardly any support from the School Division.

“It has been a struggle to encourage parents to enrol their children because the support from the School Division is hardly there. We’ve been left out of information sessions and school open houses to let parents know this program exists. We are really hoping the Filipino-Canadian community can get the word out, show support, and stop the School Division from ending the program,” she pleads.

There are more than 80,000 Filipino-Canadians in Manitoba, and according to teacher Porfiria Pedrina, it’s important to know more about their culture.

“The diversity among our students as newcomer children, as well as second and third-generation Canadians, range from knowing so much to knowing so little about their heritage and language,” she says.

“The Filipino bilingual program is an important opportunity for them to build their own positive self-identity in a nurturing and safe cultural environment.”

The Program is based on the Manitoba Education Curriculum and divides the medium of instruction between Filipino in arts subjects and English in math and sciences. The Seven Oaks School Division also currently offers Ukrainian and Ojibwe bilingual programs.

To register children by the end of July, parents are urged to contact Cory Juan at 204-694-8517 or e-mail her at [email protected]

After-school program another option

Students still have the option to join the Filipino heritage language program, which runs three times a week after school at Maples Collegiate. There, they have the option of learning Filipino, along with 10 other languages, such as Cree and Punjabi.

The Filipino bilingual program might not have taken off since some parents like to combine the after-school programs with other immersion classes, says Ronald Iscala.

Iscala is a teacher in the current bilingual program and a mentor with the after-school Filipino program.

“I think the regular days, they prefer to have another activity, and then after that they prefer to have the Filipino culture and language,” he said.