Yellowknife’s first new school in two decades opens on Monday, August 29. École Įtłʼo is the replacement for École JH Sissons, which closed in 2020 after 45 years’ service.
The new École Įtłʼo facility features 18 classrooms, interactive whiteboards, ergonomic furniture, dedicated quiet spaces, gender-neutral washrooms and a centrally located library.
The territorial government said the school had been completed on time and on budget, though a few items are still outstanding. The gym, for example, has yet to be completed.
Jameel Aziz, who took over as the YK1 school district’s superintendent last week, said École Įtłʼo was an “amazing” school building.
“The design is so modern: the light, the organization, some of the colour cues and some of the natural wood and the curved hallways,” Aziz told Cabin Radio.
“I have not been part of a new school build for a very long time. Schools were not built the way that school is built. It almost makes me want to go back and become a teacher or run a school again, just to be part of that building.
“I think it’s going to be fantastic for our students. Hopefully it’s the first of maybe a few others that will come our way. It’s a beautiful building, really well thought out, and I think it’s going to be a real asset to the community and for our kids.”
The name Įtł’ǫ̀ reflects a Wılıı̀deh word for cranberry, a name chosen in January after three months spent refining a shortlist of suggestions.
The school is expected to house some 250 to 300 students once enrolment numbers are finalized.
“An Indigenous consultant provided insights on the design of the building, which resulted in incorporated elements such as circular spaces, wayfinding, and colour selections,” said the territorial government in a news release.
“Artwork by Chipewyan Dene artist John Rombough that was originally installed on the exterior of JH Sissons will feature on the interior east wall of the library.”
The gym is not yet complete in part because it had been serving as a staging area for the materials needed to finish the rest of the build, meaning time is needed to now finish the flooring. Aziz added supply chain issues affecting much of the world, driven by issues like the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, had played a role.
“There is a beautiful outdoor plaza area that they’re going to use for gym and outdoor activities, as well as the playground,” said YK1 assistant superintendent Shirley Zouboules. “Hopefully, the weather stays good.”
Finishing touches are also awaited in the library, community kitchen and project room according to an update posted to the school’s website last week. Remaining work will be completed after 4pm on school days to avoid interrupting students’ learning, Zouboules said.
“Kudos has to go to the school staffs at Įtłʼo and William Mac,” she said, referring to William McDonald Middle School, where most JH Sissons students have been studying since 2020 after losing their own school.
“They have been incredibly accommodating. It will be really nice to have them in their own space again.”
A main focus for Aziz as superintendent will be moving YK1, like the rest of the NWT, to British Columbia’s school curriculum after the territorial government elected to introduce it and drop Alberta’s equivalent.
Aziz has 25 years’ experience in BC’s education system on which to draw.
He said he is also interested in developing infrastructure that will open up more outdoor space and “make sure our students have every opportunity to pursue their passions.”
“There will be things being brought forward in terms of just providing more outdoor space, more playing space, and probably more athletic or recreational opportunities for kids,” Aziz told Cabin Radio.
“Fine arts, trades, athletics – kids remember those experiences in school as much as they do the lessons and the teachers that they engage with. If our kids are thinking about this as the path they’d like to take, then we have the opportunity and we have the facilities to help them at least experience a little bit of that path.”
He said those opportunities should include closer collaboration with the polytechnic university into which the NWT’s Aurora College is now transforming.
“In my previous district, we were very fortunate: we had a great arrangement with our local university,” he said, referring to the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, an Indigenous public post-secondary institute in Merritt.
“We saw a history of our kids going off to post-secondary not ready for that transition and challenge, especially when coming from smaller communities. They would go off and they would have a negative experience, and then that would be the end of it.
“So I think there’s the opportunity to work with our local post-secondaries here to help create some bridging opportunities for kids – and it may be the final outcome for some of our kids as well – but certainly to get them started as to what the post-secondary world looks like, get some prerequisite courses under their belts before they go off to some of the larger centres, and then they’re more prepared and they will have better success.”
A grand opening for École Įtłʼo will be announced at a later date.