On November 19, 2021, our SchoolBOX North team travelled into Treaty 3, in Northern Ontario to visit our current projects main site. The team gathered at Gaagagekiizhik Elementary and Bimose High school (Kiizhik School for short) in Kenora, to meet the teachers, educators, principal and students.
We were welcomed with incredible generosity of time and spirit! Wendy McPherson, the school’s principal, invited us into their beautiful learning space with open arms and an open heart. We walked the halls and were captivated by the beautiful art and cultural teachings that surrounded us. We peaked our heads into classrooms filled with students and were met with cheerful “boozhoo”‘s and resounding “biindigen”‘s (“hello” and “come in” in Anishinaabemowin). Wendy has been at this school for 3 years but has been an educator for many. Her love for her students and her passion for them to not only succeed, but to be empowered in their Anishinaabemowin identity was a beautiful thing to witness.
(Right: Wendy McPherson, Principal of Gaagagekiizhik School)
It was wonderful to see the school in action and to witness how the school infuses Anishinaabemowin culture into every fibre of teaching. We had the privilege of meeting with many of the educators there. Janae Grafham, originally from Fort Alexander, is the high school science teacher who has helped spear-head the land based learning centre project. Janae says she is excited because it’s the students vision and the adults are the ones bringing to life. She went on to say, “It’s really exiting supporting the students in their dream. The students love land-based learning” and she has noticed how much they enjoy working with their hands. The land-based outdoor classroom will provide the students with a space that encourages tactile learning while empowering learning off the land.
(Janae Grafham, Bimose High school Science Teacher)
In addition to our outdoor land based classroom, SchoolBOX will be bringing a library space to the school which currently has none. Each classroom is equipped with books provided by the school and teacher, and we were inspired by each educators emphasis on literacy and providing culturally relevant and empowering books for their kids. However, the school itself, has no space for a separate library. Our team was able to sit down with three of the high school students and when asked where they would go to get books outside the classroom if they wanted to, a student replied “No clue.” Many of these students take the bus from out of town to get to school, and their home communities don’t have libraries the same way the rest of the country does. Xander, another student said “I would get books at a resource centre in town”, but the barrier of getting to and from town outside of school time, is an on-going issue. The school’s Language and Culture Resources, Anna and Maryann (pictured below) will be able to utilize this library space and the outdoor classroom for their lessons.
(Left Photo in centre: Anna Phelan, High School Native Language Teacher, with Terri Meekis, North Director & Sarah Kerr, ED | Right: Maryann Swain, Language & Culture Resource)
In the afternoon of our visit we broke ground on the land where the outdoor classroom will be built next spring, and as is custom in Anishinaabemowin culture, we offered back tobacco as a miigwetch, a thank you. Maryann, one of the school’s Culture and Language Resources, explained, “If you take something from the land, you give back an offering of miigwetch”. It was a meaningful moment to pause and practice gratefulness. Next the JK- Grade 8 students joined us outside with their teachers to stand on the land where the outdoor classroom and wigwam structure will be built next year. Anna, the resource for the high school students, said “I focus on a circular style of teaching. The outdoor land based classroom will follow this model, where you can infuse what you’ve learned into everything else.” We left inspired and excited to see the plans unfold in the spring!
Miigwetch to Wendy, Maryann, Leanne, Gerret, Thunder, Janae, Anna, Ryan, Terri-Lynn, Ron for your warm welcome and the rest of the staff for your incredible work.