They take the stage one by one, grinning nervously and anxious to get out of the royal blue mortar boards on their heads and back to the serious business of playing with their equally nervous and anxious friends.
There was a time that this entire party could have taken place at a picnic in Rotary Park, says Helen Andrew, president of the Central Alberta Immigrant Women’s Association.
HIPPY Canada, a hands-on program that helps immigrant families prepare their children for kindergarten and public school, graduated 28 preschoolers in its first year.
Five years later, 105 tiny graduates were dressed in royal blue gowns and mortarboards for their graduation ceremony on Saturday, while proud parents from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Central and South America cheered and snapped pictures in the auditorium of a Red Deer church.
Funded largely by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters program was written for immigrant families for whom English or French are second languages.
The program acknowledges that the language barrier and other cultural differences will make it more difficult for those parents to help their children fit in at school.
So, while the weekly modules and home visits are designed to help the children, the parents — especially the mothers — benefit from the ongoing contact with program workers and other parents.
Brothers Alcedric and Adrian Marinas, aged five and three, were graduates number 56 and 57 in Saturday’s ceremony.
Their parents met in Red Deer after immigrating from the Philippines to work in Alberta.
Cheesemaker Alford Marinas arrived in August of 2007 while his wife, Mary Jean, had come in February of the previous year to work as a nanny.
Alford Marinas said he and Mary Jean have found child rearing very different here compared to the Philippines, where they would have shared parenting duties with dozens of relatives.
Here, there are no relatives to lend a hand, he said.
Mary Jean said the modules were broken down into different categories such as language and math, and designed to fit around a small child’s short attention span.
Each module is completed over the course of a week, at about 15 minutes a day and with home visits from a HIPPY Canada instructor.
Mary Jean’s instructor had come from Ukraine. Even though they came from vastly different backgrounds, the instructor had shared similar experiences as a new Canadian and was therefore able to understand and appreciate the difficulties Mary Jean was experiences as she and Alford adjusted to living in an English speaking, multi-cultural world.
The program also includes a number of events, bringing families together and helping their children meet new friends from all over the world.
Mary Jean says she may consider becoming a HIPPY Canada instructor at some point in the future.
She laughs at Adrian’s attempts to stop her from putting her efforts to put the mortar board back on his head. He’s finding it kind of itchy, she says.
The next program starts in October and runs through until June and is available in Red Deer and some surrounding communities, including Ponoka and Lacombe. There have been waiting lists at times during the first five years, with funding levels dictating how many spaces will be available, says Andrew.
Information is available from HIPPY Canada program co-ordinator Mercedes Cruz at CAIWA, 403-341-3553.