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A reflection of community values

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Thursday, August 30, 2007

Culture is taking a seat at the front of the class this year at Deh Gah school in Fort Providence.

Using a number of different initiatives the staff plan to develop a cultural-based learning environment in the school, said principal Lois Philipp.

NNSL photo

All staff at the Deh Gah school including new teachers David Jackson, left, Christina Pan, Jim Snider, Rachel Hryniuk, Kai-Ann Gregory and Mike Leishman recently completed a three day culture camp. - Roxanna Thompson/NNSL photo

"The goal is to create a positive bond between school, community and students so we can all support each other," Philipp said.

The school's staff took the first step in this plan. Approximately 20 staff members spent three days from Aug. 20-22 attending a culture camp at the T'elemie Healing Camp. This was the first time a staff camp has lasted longer than a day, Philipp said.

While at the camp, the staff took part in cultural activities including a fire feeding ceremony, a drum dance and a sharing circle. The staff also had a chance to canoe on the Horn River, eat moose meat and discuss cultural issues.

With six staff members new to their positions this year it was important to introduce them to their new environment, Philipp said.

"It was to foster better relations between the school and the community so the school better reflects the values of the community," she said.

Staff who are new to the NWT include Rachel Hryniuk, Kai-Ann Gregory, Christina Pan, David Jackson and Jim Snider. Mike Leishman is new to his position, having transitioned from being a classroom assistant to teaching a split class of Grades 2-4.

David Jackson, who will teach secondary English, said he appreciated the chance to become sensitized to the community's concerns and try different activities.

"It was amazing going down the Mackenzie, a tremendous experience," said Jackson.

Jackson said that curiosity brought him to Fort Providence. He took a leave of absence from the school in North Vancouver where he's taught for the past 15 years to work in the North.

In addition to showing new teachers a bit about life on the land, the promotion of Slavey will be part of the plan, said Philipp.

Students will be given early dismissal every Tuesday at 2:45 p.m. so the teachers can take Slavey lessons. The lessons will also be opened to any community member who is interested.

A Slavey language program will also be run one night a week for parents whose children are in the immersion classes. Last year an immersion program was started in the kindergarten class. This year's program has progressed with the students to Grade 1.

Learning and speaking Slavey is part of promoting culture, said Philipp.

"Culture is reflected through language," she said.

"We need to, as a community, work towards maintaining cultural integrity."

Creating a cultural-based learning environment in the school will also allow people to realize that language, culture and traditions should be an important part of their daily lives, said Margaret Thom, the school's community counsellor.