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Teachers win national award

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services

Jean Marie River (Dec 15/06) - They might not look any different, but George and Linda Urban are now national award winners.

The Urbans have been given the 14th annual Prime Minister's Awards for Teaching Excellence for their work at the Louie Norwegian school in Jean Marie River.

The teachers are two of only 17 teams or individuals from schools across Canada chosen.

George said he and Linda were "excited" and "overwhelmed" when they were contacted by the Prime Minister's office on Dec. 4 about the honour. They were nominated for the award by the community.

For a small school to be recognized as one of 16 across Canada is impressive, said Nolan Swartzentruber the superintendent of the Dehcho Divisional Education Council.

The Urbans, who work as part of a team with Wanda Norwegian, have provided a consistent program at the school for more than five years, said Swartzentruber.

They've integrated the community, culture and language as part of the school which is something the council strives for, he said.

"There's a lot of acceptance and appreciation that the school is part of the community," said Swartzentruber.

So far during the few months he's been chairperson of the local DEA, Fred Norwegian said he's noticed the Urbans go out of their way to do better things for the students.

"They take a lot of interest in the kids," Norwegian said.

The Urbans do many cultural activities in the school and take the students on field trips to the south, said Norwegian.

Both teaching approach and outstanding achievements were taken into consideration for the award.

This is the sixth year the Urbans have taught at the school. They currently have 15 students from kindergarten to Grade 9.

Experiential-based learning is the term George uses to describe their approach to teaching. Because the students are at so many different levels the Urbans said they had to find a way to encompass every child's learning.

The Urbans base the school year around units. A broad theme is chosen for each unit and it's incorporated into all aspects of the curriculum, said George.

Each unit is very project-oriented, George said. Students are always demonstrating what they learn through models, 3-D and oral projects.

"We think it's a superior way to learn," said Linda.

"Children learn through play."

At the end of a unit, the children's work and knowledge is presented to the community through a fair.

"We want the parents to be totally involved in their education," said George.

In a recent unit called "In the beginning" about the creation of the planet Earth, students first learned about the scientific definition of how the earth was formed. They then heard the Slavey creation story.

To learn about sudden Earth changes the students got to build volcanoes and explode them. For slow Earth changes they built glaciers, explained George as an example.

Teaching the students in this way is a lot of work but very rewarding, said Linda.

The Urbans said students are doing well with this form of learning.

Every month attendance is at 95 per cent or above. Often it's at 100 per cent, said Linda.

All the students also read well and every child has received an award for reading 100 or more books in a single year, she said.

Travelling is also an important part of the school year. In the spring after a major unit, the Urbans take students on a trip to see the things they have been learning about.

After one unit on farming, students were taken to Alberta and Saskatchewan where they visited the different types of farms they'd learned about.

"It's about celebrating their excellence regardless of how small it is or how big," said Linda.