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Edmonton celebrates 50 years of the Ukrainian Bilingual Program

Feb 22, 2024 | Community, Featured

Lessia Slipchuk and Eugene Ewanyshyn. Photos by Marco Levytsky

Marco Levytsky, Western Bureau Chief.

Edmonton’s Ukrainian community celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Ukrainian Bilingual Program with a banquet sponsored by the Edmonton Catholic Schools Ukrainian Bilingual Parent Advisory Society (UBPAS) and the Ukrainian Bilingual Language Association (UBLA), February 7.

Founded in 1974, Alberta’s program became a model for similar programs in both Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Its objectives are, among others, to develop students’ written and oral communication skills in Ukrainian and English, to familiarize them with Ukrainian culture in Canada, Ukraine, and other countries, and to give them an opportunity to learn French as well as English.

Under this program, in grades one through six, half of the day is devoted to instruction in Ukrainian. Social studies, art, music, physical education, health, and religion are taught in Ukrainian. Science, mathematics, and English language arts are taught in English. In grades 7 through 9 about 30 percent of instruction is in Ukrainian, and at the grades 10 to 12 level the instruction time in Ukrainian is reduced to about 18 percent.

The program was made possible through the lobbying efforts of leading members of the Edmonton Ukrainian Professional and Businessmen’s Club, including Peter Savaryn, Laurence Decore and Manoly Lupul, who succeeded to have the Alberta School Act amended in 1971 to allow any language in addition to English to be used as a language of instruction. Saskatchewan and Manitoba followed suit with similar legislation later in the seventies.

At the banquet held at the Meridian Banquets facility in Edmonton, Lessia Slipchuk and Eugene Ewanyshyn, former consultants for the Edmonton Public School system and the Edmonton Catholic one respectively, outlined the history of the program.

On a trial basis, approximately 100 students participated in a Kindergarten program at schools in both systems from January to June 1974. A three-year pilot project followed in September 1974, when the Alberta government made a financial commitment of $50,000 per year and offered to fund annual program evaluations over a five-year period. In addition, the government agreed to support Ukrainian curriculum and resource development.

A target number of 500 students were required for the 3-year pilot and the boards worked together to achieve this goal. Teachers from both boards spent most of August 1974 developing the curriculum for Grade 1 as set out by the Department of Education.

Classes consisted of students with knowledge of the Ukrainian language and students with no knowledge of the Ukrainian language. Consultants and teachers held regular information sessions as to program content and progress.

By the year 2000, almost 1100 students were registered in school districts in Edmonton, Sherwood Park, Lamont and Vegreville in programs spanning Kindergarten to Grade 12.

“Among many ardent supporters, one person stood out in the Edmonton Catholic system. That was Bishop Demetrius Greschuk, who offered his unfailing support as a frequent visitor and school celebrant, particularly during Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter religious celebrations. Fluent in Ukrainian and English, he demonstrated his enjoyment interacting with students in both languages. Furthermore, he harnessed the active support of Catholic parishes, which were always included in the annual Appreciation Night for teachers and parents. In short, the school, parents and parish were united as one family in a common endeavour to support Ukrainian bilingual education,” said Ewanyshyn.

Slipchuk noted that the Ukrainian Community provided the program with the extraordinary and valuable resource materials, but due to varying circumstances and declining enrolment in the Ukrainian/English Bilingual Program, the Edmonton Public School Board closed the program in 2013. Many of the students in this program have continued their bilingual education with the Edmonton Catholic system.

“Of extraordinary importance, today we recognize and congratulate many Ukrainian newcomers, fleeing desperate conditions in Ukraine, for having chosen to settle in our fair city and whose children have enrolled in large numbers in several Edmonton Ukrainian bilingual schools as well as in Sherwood Park and Vegreville,” she added.

Towards the end of their presentation Ewanyshyn thanked the organizing committee singling out Marian Butz-Gauk for her consecutive years of tireless involvement in the UPBAS.

“That my friends is a record that may never be equalled — 37 years. Well done Marian!” he stated as the audience rose to give Gauk a lengthy ovation.

In her closing remarks Gauk said she was “humbled to share closing words, not with unfamiliar strangers but with you, my adopted extended family.”

“Tonight, dear guests, we looked to the past – to reminisce and marvel at our rich history and accomplishments, look to the present – to celebrate an incredible milestone rooted in faith, family, community and quality education and gaze into the future with new hopes and dreams for a thriving Ukrainian Bilingual program. As a program we were patient when we had nothing, and today we stand humble when we have everything,” she added.

Ukrainian Catholic Eparch of Edmonton Bishop David Motiuk informed the audience about the Image to Likeness: Our Life in Christ, a Ukrainian Catholic Religious Education Curriculum and Program being developed by the Eparchy in collaboration with Edmonton Catholic Schools and Elk Island Catholic Schools for use in their Ukrainian Bilingual Programs K to 12.

Its Mission is:
• To be faithful to Christ’s Great Commissioning to baptize and to teach all that Christ taught;
• To recognize, equip, and support parents, grandparents, caregivers, teachers, and pastors as catechists in passing on the faith from one generation to the next;
• To nurture in children and youth a desire to grow in their personal relationship with God.

The development of this program began in 2018 and the curriculum Kindergarten to Grade 9 is currently being piloted. Full implementation is expected in September 2024!

This program also will be adapted for parish and home use and will be available to schools, parishes and families throughout North America, Ukraine and around the world.

The cost for the development of this curriculum and its corresponding resources will be upwards of $150,000 per grade and the Eparchy is asking people to support this legacy project,

Following his presentation, Metropolitan Ilarion of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada led the Opening Prayer.

In her greetings, Sandra Palazzo, Chair of the Board of Trustees for Edmonton Catholic Schools (ECS) stated that the “Ukrainian Bilingual Program has been a beacon of excellence, fostering an environment where students not only learn about their roots but also develop the skills and knowledge necessary to thrive in a globalized world. Our dedicated educators have played a crucial role, imparting not just academic lessons but instilling values of tolerance, diversity, and a sense of community.”

“As we look back on the accomplishments of our students, teachers, and administrators, let us also look forward with optimism and excitement for the next fifty years. The world is evolving rapidly, and our Ukrainian Bilingual Program will continue to be at the forefront of preparing students to navigate the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead,” she added.

Michelle Lea-Wilson (nee: Wujcik), President of the ECS UBPAS welcomed guests noting the evening was a celebration of the milestone that the 50th anniversary represented.

Several toasts were raised – to the pioneers of the program by Ed Hladunewich; to the teachers and staff by.Daria Luciw, UBLA President and Andrea Stelmach, Treasurer for Sherwood Park’s Bilingual Ukrainian Catholic Parent Society (BUCPS); to the alumni by Daria Porochiwnyk; and to the parents by Gauk.

Masters of Ceremony were Roman Hladyshevsky and Leanna Buzak.

MC’s Leanna Buzak and Roman Hladyshevsky

St. Martin and St. Matthew Ukrainian Dance Academy performed two numbers.

Music was provided by the Ukrainian Bilingual Alumni Musicians prior to the program and by Euphoria at the dance which followed.

St. Martin and St. Matthew Ukrainian Dance Academy Grade 5

Aside from Gauk, the Organizing Committee consisted of Rena Hanchuk, Bill Horpyniuk, Marcia Hladunewich, Christine Lirette, Daria Luciw, Sonia McLea, Daria Porochiwnyk, Irene Pryma, Simon Pryma and Susan Rajakaruna.

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