November 19, 2021 – Kiizhik School Visit to Break Ground

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.

Sue Griggs
Executive Coach, Educator

Sue has had an eclectic career as an educator with children and adults from ages four to eighty. Much of her energy is now focused on executive coaching and advising non profits such as SchoolBOX. Sue works to ensure that both the Canadian and Nicaraguan communities continue to grow and to develop with mutual respect and caring.

Harvey Griggs
Engineer, Entrepreneur

Harvey Griggs has enjoyed a remarkable career as an engineer and entrepreneur. In 2008 Harvey came to Nicaragua to assist with the build of SchoolBOX’s third school. He was deeply impressed with the kindness, the generosity, the spirit and the commitment to education demonstrated by the Nicaraguans. He has been an energetic supporter of SchoolBOX ever since.

Jim David
Founder, Trumpet Capital Corp.

Jim has been a vital supporter of SchoolBOX since the beginning. Jim travelled to Nicaragua in early 2008 to help construct one of our first schools and has been actively involved ever since. Jim is a commercial mortgage advisor and founder of Trumpet Capital Corp in Calgary, Alberta. He is passionate about yoga, and helping children in Nicaragua.

Tom Affleck
SchoolBOX Founder

Tom Affleck has lived and worked in Guatemala, Peru and Nicaragua. It was an unexpected encounter in Nicaragua, however, that sparked the SchoolBOX dream. In 2006 he gave two girls notebooks and pencils. One of the girls’ father said to her “now that you have a notebook and pencil you can go to school this year”. Tom saw his work building SchoolBOX as an opportunity to live out his faith and to break the bonds of poverty for thousands of children.

Jennette Affleck
Retired Teacher, co-founder of SchoolBOX

Jennette has been involved with early childhood education for her entire professional career. Jennette has taught in Boston, Toronto, the Ottawa Valley, and Monteverde, Costa Rica. Jennette was SchoolBOX’s longest serving Board member, has participated in 7+ school builds in Nicaragua, and was an integral part of our organization since its infancy.

Dina Bell-Laroche
Executive Coach, Sport Law & Strategy Group

Dina has been involved with SchoolBOX since 2012. In 2013, she led a team of youth to Nicaragua to participate in a school build and returned to Canada committed to making a difference. Dina’s experience in facilitation and strategic communications has been an asset to SchoolBOX. Dina believes that education really opens up opportunities for students in Nicaragua and strives to use her skills to create change.

Shannon O’Rourke

Shannon is passionate about unlocking human potential through meaningful education experiences and global community connections. Professionally, she is a marketing executive with 25 years of cross-industry experience in accelerating positive impact, innovation, and growth through the teams and organizations she serves. Shannon joined the board in 2023. She is honored to work with the SchoolBOX team to help make education possible and to further empower children, youth, families, and communities to live their best lives.

Stephanie Potter
Master Integral Coach, PhD

A longtime supporter of SchoolBOX activities, Stephanie, her husband, and youngest daughter joined a trip to Nicaragua in 2018 where they fell in love with the country and the communities they visited. After seeing the impact of SchoolBOX’s work first-hand, Stephanie was inspired to join the Board and did so in February 2020. Stephanie is humbled by the opportunity to lend her knowledge and skills to help make education – and therefore community and social change – possible through the work of SchoolBOX.

Jim Sale
Owner,‌ ‌REEF‌ ‌Consulting‌ ‌Services‌

Jim‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌management‌ ‌consultant‌ ‌who‌ ‌helps‌ ‌multi-national‌ ‌organizations‌ ‌optimize‌ ‌commercial‌ ‌effectiveness.‌ ‌He‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌long-time‌ ‌supporter‌ ‌of‌ ‌SchoolBOX‌ ‌and‌ ‌had‌ ‌the‌ ‌opportunity‌ ‌to‌ ‌travel‌ ‌to ‌Nicaragua‌ ‌in‌ ‌2016‌ ‌to‌ ‌help‌ ‌build‌ ‌the‌ ‌Gilberto‌ ‌Siles‌ ‌school.‌ ‌Impressed‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌pragmatic‌ ‌approach‌ ‌SchoolBOX‌ ‌takes‌ ‌to‌ ‌deliver‌ ‌highly‌ ‌impactful‌ ‌and‌ ‌sustainable‌ ‌solutions,‌ ‌he‌ ‌joined‌ ‌the‌ ‌Board‌ ‌of‌ ‌Directors‌ ‌in‌ ‌2021‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌goal‌ ‌of‌ ‌applying‌ ‌his‌ ‌energy‌ ‌and‌ ‌experience‌ ‌to‌ ‌help‌ ‌SchoolBOX‌ ‌continue‌ ‌to‌ ‌make‌ ‌education‌ ‌possible.‌

Natalie Gunn, Chair
Co-Owner, Oxford Learning Centre Kanata

Natalie was born with a passion for education, helping people and travel. Looking for a new volunteer project, she joined the Equator Coffee Roasters team and visited Nicaragua for a classroom build in November 2016 and proudly joined the Board of Directors in late 2017. Natalie is co-owner of the Oxford Learning Centre Kanata and committed to supporting children to reach their full potential.

Margie Graff
Retired Teacher

After 32 years of teaching with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, Margie retired and began volunteering with SchoolBOX’s Treaty 3 library partnerships. She was honoured to be entrusted with the ordering of Indigenous texts and resources for communities and schools, as well as travelling to two communities to lend a hand in setting up their library spaces. In 2022, Margie joined the board and continues to build on these wonderful experiences to ensure that all learners have the resources and opportunities to realize their dreams.

Jo Danaher
Financial Manager

Jo Danaher is our cheerful financial wizard. She keeps all of our SchoolBOX finances in order, and makes sure that we are meeting the highest standards for a charitable organization. Jo enjoys seeing the amazing power that the SchoolBOX community of volunteers and donors has to impact the education of so many children.

Rochelle Bragg
Social Media and Communications Manager

Rochelle is mixed Anishi but has much of her far jowin (Qj Cree) and Swiss-German, currently living in Treaty 19, ly living in Treaty 9, specifically the isolated community of Muskrat Dam First Nation. Rochelle is committed to speaking out on the Indigenous realities in  Canada and doing her part to help this next generation of Indigenous youth pursue their educational and personal goals.