Teacher and school bus shortages in the province have made headlines over the last few weeks as students and parents prepared for back to school.
Luckily, Kanesatake has been spared from these issues, and school administrators and educators are optimistic about the upcoming school year.
“Both schools (Rotiwennakéhte Ionterihwaienhstáhkhwa and Ratihén:te High School) are fully staffed with regard to teachers,” said Scott Traylen, the director of Education at Kanesatake Education Center (KEC).
“Fortunately, the reported bus shortage will not have any effect on the transportation of our students. The Kanesatake Education Center has its own buses and drivers, which prevents a disruption of service to our families in the community.”
In terms of staffing, the KEC is currently looking for a guidance counsellor to work at both schools. Traylen explained that KEC has been able to hire new employees with the increased federal funding from the new funding formula for First Nations schools in the province.
“The new funding formula is a positive. We’ve been fortunate as we’ve been able to hire a couple of professionals at the elementary because we get a lot of support in early intervention at the elementary,” said the director.
“So, we’ve got a literacy specialist at the elementary school, which we’ve been able to bring in four days a week, and this is a big bonus for our kids, a big support element for them. And it was a wonderful thing.”
KEC is also currently working on before-and-after-school programs to support parents in the community.
In terms of the pandemic, local elementary and high school students and teachers returned to classrooms this week without having to wear masks or practice social distancing, a sign that things continue to head in the right direction, at least for now.
“Obviously, we’re going to maintain hand sanitizing, and we have all kinds of PPE (personal protective equipment) in the event that there’s an outbreak,” said Traylen.
“I know that once students return to school, there’s going to be an obvious spread. We’re cautiously optimistic that we’ll be able to start the year and move forward. If something does happen, we will respond to it right away.”
Quebec removed its mask mandate for schools in March. However, if students or teachers test positive for COVID-19, they must remain at home for a period of five days. Those who are not vaccinated must also obtain a negative result before returning to school after the five days of self-isolation.
“We will follow all health measures should there be necessary health measures put in place. We will certainly follow them as we did before,” he said.
Another positive development for KEC has been the increased enrollment over the past few years.
Approximately 40 students are enrolled at the high school this year, according to the director, who also acts as the principal at Ratihén:te.
“At one point, our high school was projected to be about half the size of what it is now, and we are increasing. At our elementary school, we have record numbers at the nursery level this year. We’re capped. We have 16,” he explained.
A total of 70 students are enrolled at the elementary level this year. The director credits the hard work of the teachers and educators for restoring the community’s confidence in the local education system.
“They work so hard, and they’ve been so diligent. The stability of our teaching staff has been a very important part of it.”
Rotiwennakéhte Ionterihwaienhstáhkhwa has a new principal at the helm, who many will recognize since she has dedicated her life to educating the community’s youth.
“I taught here my entire career, at this school,” said Deborah Rennie, who was the head teacher and special education coordinator prior to her new appointment.
She believes Indigenous communities should have jurisdiction over their education system and hopes to one day create an Indigenous curriculum for Onkwehón:we students.
“We have a greater understanding of what it is like to be part of this community because we’re from the community, right? That’s a big part. The second thing is that, again, the connection to our history is there,” said the new principal.
“Our staff here, who’s not Indigenous, they’re fantastic. But some of them feel more comfortable when the history and those things come from us. They want us to have bigger roles when we’re teaching about the culture and even just the history. They find it has more of an impact if it comes from somebody from here.”
Traylen agreed with Rennie and said that when he first arrived in the community years ago, he created the position of head teacher in both schools because he believed that having First Nations leadership was critical.
“Debbie has taken over in a full-time capacity (as principal) and she’s still going to be working as a bonus for us with some of our special needs students. It’s a tremendous asset for both the school and the students,” said the director.
Currently, the Quebec government’s education curriculum includes some aspects of Indigenous history, but it is taught from a eurocentric perspective.
“Whereas here, it’s still the history of Quebec, and we follow the timeline, but we supplement so much of our own history. And our ultimate goal is to create our own curriculum that follows that same timeline, and that is our history,” said Rennie.