Triumph Over Tragedy
Little Saskatchewan First Nation science students at H.A.G.M.E. School persevere over the flooding of 2011.
Perform a Google search on Little Saskatchewan First Nation and the results are peppered with stories about the flooding of 2011. It devastated the community, forcing hundreds of residents from their homes. As well, the fact that two years later many of the evacuees have still not been able to return home, does not paint a very positive picture.
However, despite this calamity, despite the hardships and trials, and the fact that all the odds seemed to be stacked against this place, there is something amazing happening in Little Saskatchewan. And it’s happening at the local, First Nation run school.
Little Saskatchewan H.A.G.M.E. School is producing students that love science. They don’t just love it, they excel at it. Unprecedentedly, for the past number of years, the school’s students have won first place at the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre Science Fair, and have then gone on to compete at the National level. This year, two winners and one alternate from Little Sask. were selected to represent Manitoba at both the Manitoba Schools Science Symposium (MSSS) and the Canada Wide Science Fair (CWSF) in Lethbridge, AB.
So what is it about this school that allows them to boast this kind of science success? And how do they continue to thrive despite the adversity they face?
Success is usually achieved via a number of factors. However, first and foremost, when it comes to Little Sask., it is due to the hard work and dedication of some unsung heroes, two of them being Principal, Patrick Anderson and Resource Teacher, Wilson Fallorin. These two educators are devoted to their students, and understand the importance of a Science Fair program. They get students participating on projects as early as grade four.
“We see it as a long term process,” explains Anderson. “The students start early and are involved every year, by the time they get to high school the skills have been developed. The students are confident and they understand what it takes to present their work.”
“We give our students a lot of time to work on their projects,” continues Fallorin. “We don’t have to force them to participate, they take ownership, feel empowered and they’re engaged on so many levels with their projects, not just science but, math, ELA, computers, public speaking, and relationship building. The Science Fair integrates so many things. Plus, it’s a real boost for them.”
It is definitely a needed boost in a community that has faced a lot of struggle. “April 13th, 2011 the kids were pulled from school.” Anderson doesn’t even have to think about the date, it is always fresh in his mind. It is when hundreds of people – family members, neighbours, students – were evacuated from Little Saskatchewan First Nation. Two years later the school population is still well below normal, as many families have not been able to return home. Some have. And, remarkably, some stayed and worked throughout the flood, Anderson, Fallorin and Education Director, Jerry Sumner among them.
“It certainly wasn’t easy driving through floodwaters and hazardous road conditions to get to the school and at the same time trying to keep things as normal as possible,” describes Anderson.
Another person who stayed in Little Sask. throughout the flood is a remarkable young woman named Tara Brass. At first glance you probably wouldn’t guess that Tara Brass is a powerhouse when it comes to science. A shy demeanor belies a thoughtful and intelligent tenth grader who turned tragedy into triumph and won gold at MFNERC’s Science Fair. Brass actually used the flood as fuel for her award winning science project, choosing to research how it affected water treatment and filtration on her reserve. This is the second time she’s been chosen to go to the CWSF. “Two years ago I went to Peterborough,” she quietly describes. “My project then was on testing heart rates before and after running…I’m happy I get to go again this year.”
And Brass isn’t the only student who decided to research the effects of the flood on her home. Creative and inventive ninth grader, Destiny Desmarais, chose to test soil in flooded and non-flooded areas, measuring Nitrogen, Phosphate, Potassium and pH levels. “A lot of the trees around here are dying,” she explains. “I wanted to find out why.”
Both these outstanding students are currently working hard on updating and improving their projects in preparation for the MSSS and CWSF. Water and soil testing continues, with support from Mr. Fallorin and MFNERC’s Science Specialist Rosely Booth, support that will no doubt take them far at both events. “It’s really something special,” Booth affirms. “The girls are working so hard and we’re finishing up more water and soil tests now, getting ready for the presentation part of the project.”
With so many students and community members still gone from Little Saskatchewan First Nation, the Science Fair is a way for the School to motivate, encourage and support its students. Considering how well they are doing, Little Saskatchewan students are sure to have success with science for years to come.
Congratulations to all the MFNERC Science Fair Winners and good luck Tara and Destiny!!