The Spanish Schoolhouse is turning 10

Growth of Thornhill’s first and only independent Spanish school for children driven by growing community interest in Spanish as second language

A desire by two Spanish-speaking mothers to teach their kids their native language has evolved into a full-fledged independent Spanish school with multiple programs and locations that is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

“It’s an exciting milestone,” says Sandra Goldberg, co-founder and co-director of The Spanish Schoolhouse in Thornhill. Our growth reinforces the fact that to more and more families, learning the Spanish language is important to their children’s development and future.”

That’s the same goal Goldberg, who was born in Colombia, had for her two then preschool-age daughters back in the early 2000s. Looking to formally expose her children to Spanish culture and language, she sought out local private schools—but none existed.

Then she met a likeminded parent, Veronica Citrino, a native of Argentina with similar aspirations for young daughter and son. Their similarities quickly led to a friendship and playdates with their kids. But the two women were also Ontario trained early childhood educators with many years of experience, and they began hatching a plan to start their own Spanish school.

The Spanish Schoolhouse launched in 2004 at its current location with just a small handful of students. But year after year, the little school grew, steadily adding more and more students in response to growing demand from families in York Region and north Toronto.

Today, the school features multiple daytime, after-school and weekend programs for infants to 12 year olds, as well as a summer camp program and one-on-one and group classes for adults. In addition to its Thornhill site, the school has expanded to offer programs at locations in Toronto and Oakville, and also provides onsite Spanish language instruction at various Ontario private schools.

Being the only comprehensive Spanish immersion school for kids and adults in the area has certainly aided The Spanish Schoolhouse’s growth, but broader cultural and economic factors may also be playing a role. Spanish is now the fifth-most spoken home language in Toronto among non-English homes, with 45,330 speakers. Many of those families may be seeking to sustain their language and culture among their children.

What’s more, Canada has been building its business connections with Latin America, with exports to the region jumping 25% between 2006 and 2011, according to Export Development Canada. In 2010, EDC helped Canadian companies do more than $10 billion worth of business in the region—a 40% increase over the previous 10 years. These increasing business ties with Latin America highlight the importance of the Spanish language as part of long-term career planning.

Enhancing her children’s future career prospects was on the mind of Toronto resident Mary Candelario when she enrolled her daughters at The Spanish Schoolhouse. She and her husband are originally from the U.S., where Spanish is the second-most used language, and to where they may return one day, so it seemed like a smart move.

“The job opportunities in many parts of the U.S. are such that you have serious advantage if you are bilingual in Spanish,” says Canedlario, whose daughters, age 7 and 4, have both participated in the kindergarten program. “The curriculum at the school is excellent, and the teachers know what motivates kids and how to make learning fun.”

That’s music to Veronica Citrino’s ears, since the co-founder and co-director says her most important priority is inspiring children to not only learn but enjoy the Spanish language.

“We really believe in what we’re doing and in the importance of the language,” Citrino says. “I like to see the children progress and discover the beauty of Spanish.”