It all started with an invitation from the alumni of the Early Learning and Child Care (ELCC) program to their Northern Lakes College instructors to come and see them putting their learning into action. In her email, alumni Gloria Fierro’s excitement was palpable, “I just wanted to drop you a note and tell you how great life is. I am now employed as the K-4 pre-Kindergarten teacher at Driftpile School. I have two educational assistants in my room, and they just happen to be NLC alumni as well. We are all so happy and excited to be a team and have our own class. We are so grateful for all the wisdom you have imparted and we are drawing on all that knowledge as we set up our classroom. Thank you once again and hopefully you can come visit us.”
On a lovely, sunny winter’s day, NLC instructors Alisha David and Renée Tissink take a road trip to Driftpile Cree Nation to visit with their former students at Mihtatakaw Sipiy School (Driftpile School).
Born and raised in Driftpile Cree Nation, Georgina Bellerose, who works with the grades five and six classes as an educational assistant, started with Northern Lakes College as an Academic Upgrading student in 1996 at the Driftpile Campus. After achieving her high school diploma, she began work at the elementary school as an educational assistant. She enjoyed the experience so much that she determined she would return to NLC to get her ELCC diploma, graduating in 2019. “The fact that I did not have to leave my community to access the ELCC program made all the difference,” she comments regarding NLCs model of making programs accessible via Supported Distance Learning (SDL).
Gloria Fierro is the lead instructor in the K-4 classroom, supported by her colleagues Michelle Isadore and Wanda Alice Giroux. Gloria is an alumni of the ELCC Certificate and Diploma programs, and was the valedictorian at the Northern Lakes College Convocation ceremonies in 2019. She also served as the student representative on the Northern Lakes College Board of Governors. “We have aligned what we learned in our program at NLC along with the goals and mandates of Mihtatakaw Sipiy School. The mandate calls for the inclusion of culture in the classroom, which includes daily Cree instruction. The goal to have students reading by third grade means K-4 students need to develop pre-reading and pre-writing skills, so we have them trace their names, identify colours, and learn to sound out parts of words.
Michelle Isadore is one of two educational assistants in Gloria’s K-4 classroom. She is also a graduate of the College’s ELCC Certificate program and is on course to complete her ELCC Diploma this June. She is also Georgina’s daughter, and has lived her entire life in Driftpile Cree Nation. “I remember when Michelle started Kindergarten right in this exact classroom where she now teaches,” exclaims Georgina. “I remember bringing her here on her first day of school!”
ELCC alumni Wanda Alice Giroux is also an educational assistant in Gloria’s classroom. Other commitments prevented her from being present for the reunion of the alumni with their instructors, but it is clear from the way her colleagues speak of her that she is a key member of the team.
As the NLC instructors tour the classroom, Gloria explains, “We have collectively agreed on a combined Reggio and Montessori approach. We have main areas of development that we focus on: social and emotional development and self-regulation, language development, with a focus on preliteracy skills and phonics, and incorporating Cree culture through bilingual signage, Elder oral storytelling, and crafts. We have broken up our room into learning centers which encourage learning and discovery, and make observation easier.”
After the visit, instructor Renée Tissink observes, “These ladies are such a dynamic team. They have successfully applied the theory in the ELCC program to their practice. Their room set up follows centre style approach with open-ended materials for the children to engage with. I remember during their practicum how many ideas they had and could hardly wait to implement someday in their own programs and here they are doing just that - this time as a whole team. I am so pleased they were able to chase this dream and make it a reality, offering high-quality early childcare education for the community.”
Instructor Alisha David notes, “The strong connections that have been created is apparent. The relationships amongst these alumni is what has helped them bring what they learned at Northern Lakes College into action in their classroom. Additionally, the connections they have built with us, their instructors, allows them to have lasting professional support as they continue their journey as educators in the years to come. Whether it is to include us during times of celebration or reaching out to us for support and ideas during times of struggle, these relationships will always act as a trusted resource they feel comfortable utilizing as they establish themselves and continue to grow.”
As we prepare to leave, Gloria asks her former instructors, “is there anything you would change with how we’ve set up our classroom?” It is obvious that much care, attention, and thought have gone into the preparation of the classroom. The alumni have certainly used what they learned in the program in making their decisions. “Nothing major,” both instructors echo. As they once again glance around the classroom they’ve toured carefully with their former pupils, they make one or two minor suggestions, but the pride on their faces makes it clear that they think the alumni have definitely scored a homerun!