Estonian Supplementary School
In the late 1980s Calgary's Estonian community sought to establish a school solely dedicated to teaching the Estonian language and other aspects of Estonian heritage. The community turned to former high school teacher Helgi Leesment who had already conducted semi-formal Estonian language classes for several years at her home. Helgi agreed to be the principal as well as a teacher. The school was established in October 1988 as a subsidiary of the Calgary Estonian Society. It became a member of the Southern Alberta Heritage Language Association (SAHLA). Estonian Dr. Livia Kivisild was a director of the Association for many years.
With parents eager to volunteer their time, classes were initially held at the Tiislar home before moving to a larger facility located at the Lacombe Centre on Bannister Rd SE, Calgary. A year later classes switched to a more central location at the Connaught Community School on 12 Ave SW & 11 St SW.
Initially there were seven students ranging in age from five to twelve. Some spoke fluent Estonian while others knew only a few words. This meant the creation of four groups divided by age into younger and older groups, subdivided by the level of the spoken language. Thus, two to four language teachers were needed in addition to volunteers organizing crafts, singing, folkdance and other activities. Each day included games and snacks. Local and out-of-town visitors offered guest classes occasionally, depending on their field of specialty. At least two such visitors came from Estonia, a rare treat for students because travel restrictions were still in place for Estonians living under Soviet rule. The school applied for funding to purchase language learning materials and to subsidize the rent. The National Estonian Foundation of Canada, in Toronto, responded generously. Under the terms of the grant, the teachers were paid $5 to $7 per day. The teachers immediately donated their "salaries" back to the school.
Classes were held for two hours every other week. When parents brought their older children to the school, younger siblings often wanted to participate in many of the activities. As a result, parents organized simple activities for those toddlers while the older ones had more serious instruction.
The students who spoke Estonian were taught reading and writing skills with an emphasis on increasing their vocabulary. Those who were new to the language learned basic words such as numbers, colours, family and home-related terms, and exchanging pleasantries. All students received instruction in Estonian geography and simple facts about its history. Crafts and other related projects were enjoyed by the younger students. As a way of demonstrating progress, students, for instance, had to ask for scissors or a crayon colour in Estonian. Teachers and students organized special events and the events were well attended by members of the Estonian community. Such examples included Christmas concerts, Independence Day (February 24), Mother's Day and a choral performance at Jaanipäev in Stettler.
The school organized special outings such as an afternoon of indoor skating, a horse drawn hay-ride followed by hot chocolate around a bonfire, swimming at Willy G. Kalvee's private indoor pool, participation at an Estonian style confirmation celebration, watching and meeting professional Estonian basketball players at the Saddledome, attending traditional Jaanipäev celebrations at Stettler, a picnic and treasure hunt at Fish Creek Park, attending a choral concert presented by 120 professional young boys & older chamber orchestra members from Estonia, a patio celebration at the Saar residence, a trip to the Red Deer Museum to see the Estonian display and a Mother's Day brunch at the Palliser Hotel. The older students also participated along with Latvian and Lithuanian youth at a joint Baltic celebration of the newly regained independence of these three countries in fall 1991.
The school closed in 1991 as several families with children moved out of Calgary. It was decided to continue with limited activities, with an emphasis on preparing the students to perform at various special events. Helgi Leesment was among those leaving Alberta. Upon her departure, the supplementary school families held a farewell gathering where they presented her with a wall-poster size certificate of appreciation signed by the students. Subsequently, former high school teacher Pärja Tiislar directed the students' activities for the next few years, on the agreed upon informal basis.
In 1995 the Calgary Estonian Society became dormant when members of the Executive resigned and attempts at finding suitable replacements were deemed unsuccessful. The Society formally ceased to exist in 2006, transferring its loyalties and funds to the newly formed Alberta Estonian Heritage Society.
Students (1988 to 1991):
Nicole Asmus, Andrea Kivik, Erika Kivik, Krista Leesment, Karl Leetmaa, Melanie Matiisen, Erika Ojamaa, Elizabeth Saar, Julia Saar, Brigid Soide, Vivian Soide, Milvi Tiislar, Jeffrey White, Joshua White
Kindergarten Students (1988 to 1991):
Michael Asmus, Krista Leetmaa, Kersti Ojamaa, Sylvia Soide.
Instructors (1988 to 1991):
Kathy Asmus - crafts, Marta Kivik - language & choir, Helgi Leesment - language & director, Krista Leesment - language, Kersti Leetmaa - language & treasurer, Christina Robertson - guest, Rein Saar - guest, Ingrid Soide - folkdance, Laila Soide - guest, Pärja Tiislar - choir & many other functions, Anneli White - choir.