Message from the Director
Ntotemak (friends), Niwakomakanak (relatives) akwa (and) Onekehikomawak (parents), akwa (and) mena (also) Okiskinwamakanak (students) akwa (and) Okiskinwamakiwak (teachers):
“It takes a village to raise a child!” And there has never been a time when the wisdom of elders and the community are needed as much as they are today in guiding our youth to make wise choices.
Thanks to the Internet, satellite television, satellite telephones, and other technological changes, the “village” has become the whole world. Our children are being influenced by a collection of sources that too often focus on the most negative aspects of life. They are no longer isolated and growing up in naïve innocence, being guided by the protection of extended family and an ever-watchful community. Even the dynamics and perspectives of the community are changing, where due to population growth, not everyone knows each other any more or feels the same communal commitment, and the influences of elders and traditional cultural anchors appear to be diminishing.
What is the answer to these changes?
Education, Education, Education!
Education to prepare our children for a career in a highly technological universe.
Education to enable them to make positive choices when being bombarded with enticements and political spin of all sorts.
And finally, Education to guide them in making moral and spiritual choices that will enable them to find standards of right and wrong and a quality way of life based on the principles espoused by their traditional ancestors, combined with the values we instill in them as part of delivering a contemporary education.
Pooling Community Resources
The school, parents and the community must continue to pool their resources and improve their communication links. We must work selflessly and collaboratively for the benefit of our youth, if we are to see our way successfully through these challenges.
As parents, we need to begin with the simple things such as getting children to bed on time, seeing that they attend school regularly, closely monitoring their academic progress, and taking responsibility for their behaviour both in school and in the community.Our lifestyle choices must reflect the kinds of decisions that put our children's needs first and we must be consistent in those actions.
As educators, we will see to it that children are exposed to the best current educational practices that will enable them to live effectively in the modern world, while maintaining and practicing their cultural traditions.
Language and Culture
Community involvement is an important element to NEA’s continued focus on strategies to ensure the language and culture of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation is respected and taught to children in our schools.
This process includes involving elders to teach traditions and share traditional knowledge. Today's students learn the basic survival skills of their ancestors as well as their songs, dances and oral traditions.
NEA works closely with other community organizations in keeping NCN’s holistic approach to education and wellness.
NEA works closely with the NCN Family and Community Wellness Centre and Atoskiwin Training and Employment Centre in developing programs and initiatives to assist students and young people to reach their full potential.
Efforts to involve the community in the education process are key to improving the overall quality of our educational opportunities.
Making Sure our Students Have
I joined the Education Authority July 29, 2009 to prepare to assume the role of Director of Education. At that time, our high school and elementary students were alternating schedules using the elementary school building because the former NNOC School beside the arena was closed because it did not comply with INAC policies.
The NEA Board and former Director initiated an action plan to address this issue, which required borrowing $2.5M ($1.5 million from the Royal Bank of Canada and $1 million from the contractor SVB Inc.) to build the new high school.
I was tasked with getting the new school up and running in record time. Working closely with Harry Walia from SVB Inc., building the new temporary high school took one year to complete. Because of the focus and commitment of all involved, our students are now enjoying the benefits of the temporary high school for the second year.
School Evaluation Identifies Improvements Needed
An education program evaluation was conducted by a team of professionals headed by Conrad Sigurdson. The evaluation, funded by the Treasury Board of Canada, showed many of our students were not at their appropriate age/grade levels nor do they possess appropriate skill sets expected for the grade levels where they are. Basically, the evaluation indicated adjustments are needed in the quality of education being delivered/received.
As the new Director of Education, a major challenge for me is to address the quality of education issue, both in the short and long terms. In the interim, I am exploring creatively using existing resources by approaching key stakeholders to assist – INAC, MFNERC, AMC, AFN, MKO, ATEC and others. In the longer term, I will need to be creative in developing appropriate solutions by finding additional funding and other resources that will enable the NEA to deliver a quality education program for our students on par with the best education systems around.
NEA Revises Program To Address Community’s Educational Needs.
This year a revised program was initiated to address our community’s current educational needs which involves:
- Strengthening our hiring process to ensure we hire quality teaching staff,
- Creating an enhanced supportive program environment for both teachers and students,
- Conducting a more thorough evaluation process for both teachers and students, and
- Strengthening a more academically focused delivery of the Mature Student Program now delivered through ATEC.
Creating Better Synergies with ATEC
In my dual role as Chair of ATEC’s Board of Directors and NEA’s Director of Education, I am ideally positioned to facilitate a greater synergy between the two organizations to fulfill two objectives: to better serve our students graduating from high school, and to improve the qualifications of NEA support employees.
To those ends, NEA in conjunction with ATEC and the University of Manitoba, have developed and implemented a Transition Year Program delivered from ATEC to better prepare our Grade 12 graduates for successfully navigating the challenges of post-secondary education at University, College or wherever else they may want to pursue higher education.
ATEC is also putting in place a new one or two year training program for educational assistants, and NEA will require any new educational assistants to have that training as we work towards improving the overall quality of our educational service delivery.
Prepared to Take on the Challenges
I’m very excited and enthusiastic in my role as Director of Education for the Nisichawayasihk Education Authority to take on the challenges before us in creating a top-quality education for our children to help them achieve their potential and aspirations in both careers and life.
I look forward to working closely and cooperatively with our "village": the NEA Board, our administrators, teachers, support staff, NCN Chief and Council, parents, Elders and community members to deliver a shared vision of providing the best education possible for our children. At the same time I will also need to work diligently with external governments (federal, provincial, municipal) and their departments and agencies to secure and enhance our educational entitlements.
But for their part, our children need to understand and embrace the vital importance a quality education will play in helping them lead happy, successful and self-directed lives. It’s our collective responsibility to help instill that knowledge in our children and I invite you to join me in that important task.
Be Active at the School
I want to personally invite all parents and caregivers to participate in delivering a quality education for your children. Please volunteer at the school, visit often and attend the many special events your children are involved in.
William Elvis Thomas
Director of Education