Photo Credit: Jasmine Pelletier
School division reaches out to on-reserve pupils
by Jasmine Pelletier
First Nation students have transitioned to distance learning with the help of Prairie Valley School Division.
Richard Stonechild, education portfolio holder for Okanese First Nation, has two kids who attend Balcarres Community School and says he has noticed the efforts of support staff to provide paper homework.
“They come right out to the reserve and come right out to the houses,” he said. “There’s a liaison that works with them from File Hills and kind of knows the area a little bit.”
Prairie Valley’s Indigenous Education Consultant Reona Brass, a member of Peepeekisis First Nation and former student of what is currently Balcarres Community School, credits these workers for their involvement.
“We have schools that have students from First Nations set up with two positions: the school community coordinator position and the family liaison worker… those ones are tasked with really developing and maintaining good relations with families and students,” said Brass.
“(They are) quite persistent in making sure … those students’ and families’ needs are either going to be met somehow or at least voiced at other tables in the division.”
Stonechild said that while he feels communication between his family and the division has improved, distanced learning hasn’t been easy.
“The biggest [challenge] probably is the Internet service because only a handful of people on our First Nation have Internet service available to them,” he said.
While the division has a total of 166 laptops and 84 iPads allocated for student use, limited Internet access has impeded the benefits of extra technology.
“They offered it, but we don’t really have good cell service here or Internet so we kind of just went with whatever we have,” said Stonechild, whose 15-year-old son Lloyd does supplemental learning on his phone using an Internet hotspot.
Since the closure of Saskatchewan schools due to the COVID-19 crisis, students in the division have continued learning through online resources as well as paper homework distributed by staff.
Roughly 600 of these students self-declare as Indigenous, and family liaison workers bring homework from teachers to the students who live on First Nations.
While quick to acknowledge the limitations of distance learning, during school shut-down Brass has continued to work with Elders in the development of Indigenous culture courses for division students.
“Prairie Valley is quite committed… in learning more about what it can do and how it can do it when it comes to Indigenous education,” said Brass.