Celebrating Learning in Kikino

Val Rathjen, Community Learning Network

1 3 29 March 2016

One of the greatest parts of my Regional Support position is the opportunity to visit the CALPs within my region. I get to see and hear firsthand about all the work they are doing and the impact they have in their communities. I’m thrilled to have a number of Metis Settlements as part of my region. It has given me an opportunity to learn about their culture and to applaud the great work they are doing. About 9 years ago a number of the Metis Settlements joined the ranks of Family Literacy providers across our province. Many used the strength of their Head Start programs as a base to reach out to parents by introducing Family Literacy models - a win-win for the program and the community.

Through my travels I’ve had the chance to visit the three sites that comprise Awasisak and Family Development Circle Association. My first visit was back in May 2015 when I did a tour of Buffalo Lake, Lac La Biche and Kikino. It was a fabulous day that started with meeting Terry and her team in Buffalo Lake and sitting and playing with the kids. I even got to be one little girls “best friend” for the morning. Next I was off to Lac La Biche where Tilda and company do an amazing job with a full slate of programming. I happened to arrive the same day as one of the Elders, who came to set up a traditional teepee with the kids. He shared some stories with me, including the significance and meaning of the different coloured ribbons that would be attached to the teepee. Watching as the team in Lac La Biche wove tradition and culture into their program was both educational and inspiring for me. Finally, I ended my day celebrating the amazing work and ingenuity of the team in Kikino.

I could talk about the work being done in each of these communities for hours, but for the sake of time let me tell you about what’s happening in Kikino. Back in May, when I walked into the Head Start building it was obvious that this was a great place that celebrated the traditions and history of the Settlement while introducing young minds to learning and literacy. As the staff shared their story and vision, I learned how Edna Desjarlais received provincial recognition for the cultural programming she introduced, how Jean Cardinal uses her experience and expertise with learning challenges to help kids reach their full potential, and how Cheri Thompson‘s dedication to the program and the families makes a difference every single day.

The team shared a book that they developed – Kokum’s Cree Book – that celebrates the Cree language and the relationship of a very special Kokum (Grandmother) – Mrs. Annie Howse – who regularly came to read to the children. The book has pictures of different animals, colours and phrases translated from English to Cree and also features the art work of the children in the program. What a great way to honour their culture and heritage and to keep the Cree language alive for the next generation. I take that book with me everywhere to show others and to inspire them to think outside the box.

The impact of the CALP program in Kikino is not limited to family literacy. With the changes to the guidelines, new opportunities and partnerships have opened up that allow the CALP team to work even more closely with the Settlement Administration to see community needs met. We have never done our work in isolation: it has always been about working together with community partners, and this is certainly happening there.

Darlene Thompson, who oversees the Awasisak team, lives in Kikino and over the last couple of years has worked closely with the Kikino Settlement and their CALP program to increase the scope of opportunities for their community. They have developed a Basic Computer course with local instructors that has been touted as “the best program we’ve ever run” by Settlement leadership who participated in the course. They have offered GED prep and Driver’s License prep classes that are giving learners skills they need for employment and to expand their goals. Learners also have a Student Training Initiative program that works in partnership with Alberta Works to help cover the cost of the GED testing for their members.

When I ask Darlene what makes their program so successful she talks about the importance of choosing a local instructor that people are comfortable with and who is respected in the community, being clear and consistent in your communication and plan, and how essential it is to make people feel respected and supported on their learning journey. Sometimes you have to go above and beyond to keep learners on track, but the benefits are obvious when you’ve helped someone gain confidence and skills for life.

Learner celebration in KikonoOn March 20th, I had the honour of returning to Kikino to participate in their final Basic Computer class and then attend their Learner Celebration which honoured all those who had taken part in programming over the last year. It was a fabulous day of shared learning, laughter and great food. One of the highlights for me was talking with a couple of the learners, each overcoming a different challenge, and hearing how much it meant to them to have completed this class. One gal had told the Coordinator, “I really want to finish this course, but I might need you to remind me and encourage me along the way.” It was a great day for both when she accepted her certificate with a huge smile on her face and an incredible sense of accomplishment.

All across the province there are people in communities large and small that are taking their programs to the next level. That may be working with Syrian Refugees who have just landed in our country, or young teen moms who need to boost their confidence and skills so they can take care of their children, or folks who are looking for work and realize they need to learn some new skills to make it in today’s job market. All of these people are important, and the strength of the CALP program is in our ability to recognize and meet those needs. Every learner brings skills and abilities to the table which can be built upon so they can meet their learning goals.

Keep up the great work everyone!

Val Rathjen
Regional Support Staff
East-Central Alberta


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