Living proof of the adage, “you must look back to move forward,” Jennifer Churchill has a keen interest in preserving the history of her hometown, while strengthening ties with neighboring communities and First Nations. A graduate of the Northern Lakes College University Studies diploma and the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program (ATEP), Jennifer teaches in her home community of Kinuso.
Speaking to her experiences of living in rural, northern Alberta, the Northern Lakes College alumni describes the farming community of Kinuso as one that serves a diverse demographic, including many Indigenous students, as well as “farm kids” with responsibilities at home that may not mirror a more urban childhood experience.
“I've met many first-year teachers from a variety of different places, but I’ve always felt that I was perhaps a little more prepared for teaching in the north than teachers from other schools, including those schools we might consider ‘prestigious,’” Jennifer states. “When arriving here, many have no idea of what it's like to serve students in a very small community, or what it's like to teach Indigenous peoples while actively honouring their families’ unique culture, values, and traditions.”
Another aspect unique to rural instruction is the multitude of roles one single teacher might play within the school. Jennifer explains, “If you're teaching school in Edmonton, you're probably a part of a whole department. You have one job; a clear job description. But when you teach up here, you kind of have to be a jack of all trades. NLC and the ATEP program really prepared me for that.”
Jennifer, who began teaching at Kinuso School in 2008 and currently instructs high school English, has also taught junior high school, as well as Cree language classes. Leveraging her connection to Northern Lakes College, Jennifer also plays a role in helping older students begin their post-secondary studies while still in high school. Because of this dual credit option, many students step into adulthood already certified as a health care aide or with a head start in a trade, both necessary careers in small towns. “When I look at the kids that have gone to Northern Lakes College for different programs, they're really good at taking a look at what our area needs,” Jennifer explains.
But teaching isn’t the only aspect of her community in which Jennifer is invested. She has been involved with the boards of the Alberta Grain Elevator Society, the Slave Lake Agricultural Society, and the Swan Valley Cemetery, where she preserves historical interests and develops community programming in collaboration with seniors. She also explores local genealogy and facilitates numerous collaborations between the school and Kinosayo Museum, where she spearheaded such projects as the Grain Elevator Restoration Project, eventually leading her into the position of museum president.
Jennifer’s advice for her students? “Keep your options open. Learn a little bit of everything, because you never know what life's going to chuck at you. The job that you're meant to do may not even exist yet. Try not to get too set on any one thing, because you never know when a new opportunity will open up.”