A Visit to OCN’s Schools
Opaskwayak Cree Nation (OCN) has a lot to be proud of when it comes to education. Oscar Lathlin Collegiate (OLC), now in its fifth year of operation, boasted forty-four high school graduates last year. Strong community values based in language, culture and tradition are the elements that form the foundation of OLC’s success. Vice-principal Jennifer Constant, and Principal Ron Constant, creidt OLC’s land-based programming, and its ongoing effectiveness, for the high rate of student success.
At OLC all students take part in land-based programming and it is teacher Randy Koshel who takes the lead in much of the planning and activity development. It includes everything from having the students create their individual genealogies to a moose or duck hunt. Elders and community members are invited to speak with students in order to enhance learning about Cree culture, practices and traditions. Other land-based activities the students take part in include fire building, hunting and water safety, land navigation, and in winter, there is a youth trapline. As Mrs. Constant states, “If you have a strong identity and you know who you are, it helps in all areas of your life. We want to give the students a strong foundation in both mainstream society and our ways.”
This year OLC is offering, as a pilot program, an enriched Grade 7 curriculum. Students will spend half days at a cabin that the school recently built (it is the second cabin the community has built for school programming). It is used as a classroom where students learn about trapping, hunting, fishing and traditional medicines. In addition to regular academics, this program integrates across all areas of the Grade 7 curriculum. Last year, staff from OLC undertook a recruitment process and spoke to parents and students in Grade 6 in order to gage the interest level. As a result, fifteen students will be taking part in the Grade 7 pilot program.
Joe A. Ross Elementary school in OCN now boasts ten years of Cree immersion programming for N-6 students. To date, they have consistently had 40% or more of their student population registered in Cree immersion. Since 2005 the program has been a successful work in progress thanks tocommunity involvement and a passion for the language. The teachers are all fluent speakers and out of the total school staff, twenty-two are from the community of OCN. Even during the regular academic programming, within the six-day cycle, students attend Cree language class four times.
An important aspect of teaching the Cree language is incorporating standardized Roman orthography. In Grades 7 & 8 students learn Cree syllabics. In addition, Elders attend classrooms to talk about Cree traditions and values which reinforces and strengthens identity.
For both Oscar Lathlin Collegiate and Joe A. Ross Elementary School, culture and traditions make up a big part of the foundation for healthy, happy, successful students.