Cathie Anderson

Cathie Anderson: Sacramento couple will expand their midtown Spanish language school

Cathie Anderson
Cathie Anderson

Casa de Español, midtown Sacramento’s Spanish language school, expects to move out of 2115 J St. and into new digs with five times the space at the Fremont School by year’s end.

Owners Johnny Walker and Maria Harrington said their enrollment grew to 230 students in the winter semester, up from 20 when they opened their doors in fall 2011. The husband-and-wife team had hoped from the start that their school would grow into a cultural hub for the Latino diaspora, and it appears that they’re realizing their dream. On Thursday night, Harrington and Walker flew to Guatemala on a trip organized by their school.

“We’re taking nine participants on an eight-day trip to visit the colonial city of Antigua, the Mayan ruins of Tikal, as well as a few places along the Caribbean coast, not to mention, hiking up Pacaya, an active volcano,” Walker told me. “Next year we’re also planning a trip back to Guatemala in January; another to Chiapas, Mexico, in June; and a third trip to Cuba in November.”

Last winter, Casa offered students taking English as a second language the chance to earn scholarships for their classes by leading sessions in conversational Spanish for Spanish-language students.

“It’s created a bond between both groups,” Harrington said. “The ESL students get really excited about it. In this country, they’re usually the ones that don’t know anything. They’re the ones who are always lost, always asking for help. With them being the teachers, it empowers them.”

When Casa de Español moves to the Fremont School at 2420 N St., Harrington and Walker will add a 2,000-square-foot Spanish immersion preschool; an after-school and weekend center for children; a library with Spanish-language books and periodicals; and an outdoor courtyard where they’ll have events and meetups. In total, the couple will be leasing 6,500 square feet. Of course, the Fremont School also will be home to the Sacramento Ballet, the Sacramento Opera and the Sacramento Philharmonic.

Ready? Set? Lead

The influence of the Nehemiah Emerging Leaders Program is visible in the March issue of Comstock’s magazine. The cover photo features 12 rising trailblazers, eight of whom have participated in the Nehemiah training program.

“No one was really talking about emerging leaders in a really vigorous way five years ago,” said Scott Syphax, chief executive of The Nehemiah Cos. and founder of NELP. “Now you’ve got organizations like the chamber touting board service and creating board slots for emerging leaders. We pioneered that concept.”

Before graduation, each participant must have earned a seat on a civic board or commission. Nominations are now being accepted for the sixth class, and you can bet that VSP executive Jim McGrann will be making nominations. McGrann, president of VSP Vision Care, told me that he learned about the program after the first class had graduated. He met the Nehemiah alumni and had to know more.

“They were so impressive, so dynamic,” McGrann said. “I asked how VSP could get involved, and Scott explained the enrollment process. Over the last few years, we’ve put about six people through the program.”

NELP alumni sit on more than 110 boards and commissions in the capital region, and 20 of the 76 fellows and alumni have been selected for the Sacramento Business Journal’s 40 leaders under age 40 who are leaving their mark on Sacramento. Learn more about the Nehemiah program and its nomination process at

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