Students at a Kátł’odeeche First Nation school have set out to supply clean water, build new homes, and ensure everyone is loved – one step at a time.
The small-scale, big-hearted projects from students aged five to eight are in turn heartwarming and heartbreaking.
Individual students’ projects range from help for other children whose parents drink, through to food for the First Nation’s hungry. Other issues tackled include friendship, love, homelessness, and safety.
“I don’t always hold it together,” admitted their teacher at Chief Sunrise Education Centre, Ashley Beck. “There are definitely times when I go home and have a good cry.
“Hopefully this will empower them and help them see they can have an impact in their school, the community, and the world.”
The projects began as part of a social studies unit in Beck’s JK-3 class, discussing how to connect with each other and how to understand rights and responsibilities.
“As we got into the unit, they started learning about basic human rights like food, water, clothing, safety, and love,” Ashley told Cabin Radio.
“We would look at each need one at a time – what it looks like if it’s being met, and if it’s not being met.
“They each chose what they wanted to address and met to share ideas about how they could make a difference. I now have 18 JK-3s, each with their own plan of what they are going to do, acting on those plans and following through.”
Here’s a selection of some projects her class is working on:
‘I love you’
“I made cards for people who don’t have enough love,” student Carley Fabian told Cabin Radio by phone on Tuesday.
Carley’s handmade cards have been handed out to students and teachers at Chief Sunrise. Leftover cards were held back in case she saw someone who looked like they needed one.
“We talked about love as being one of the human needs, and she said she is worried that not everyone feels love. She came up with the idea of the cards,” said Ashley.
When Cabin Radio spoke to Carley, she had one card remaining. On realizing that, she ran off to find someone to give it to.
Another student is hoping to add a friendship bench to the school bus, like those seen in playgrounds, designed to help students find people to sit next to them.
The bench will come with a sign reading, “If you’re lonely, sit with me” – and a small stuffed animal to ensure someone is always on the bench, ready and waiting.
According to Ashley, one student is worried about safety in the home when adults are drinking, and has made a poster offering her services to help.
“In effect she is safety consulting,” said Ashley. “She says she is good at making a plan when parents are drinking, so she has made a poster advertising her services to help other students when their parents are drinking.”
Asked how she feels about that project as the teacher, Ashley replied: “It is heartbreaking to know that this is a reality for our students, but I’m also proud that she can make a difference and knows what to do.
“This is a very common reality for my students. When we looked at this, many of them identified safety as a big concern.
“When they talk safety, they talk about the adults and their home drinking. Students don’t like that their parents now have easier access to marijuana. At this age, they are already identifying that as a problem.”
Hunger and thirst
Various students are working on projects connected to food and water.
“My project is about people who don’t have enough food,” said student Ryker Nestle, who has placed a box at the store which reads: “Leave what you can, take what you need.”
“I’m worried people are going to starve,” Ryker added.
He told Cabin Radio the box has received “all kinds of food” since he set it up, and he has also seen people taking the food as per its design.
“Ryker, the day that he took his box over to the store, he had to wait all day to deliver it and he couldn’t wait,” said Ashley.
“He went back on the weekend to check if anyone had put food in the box.”
Another girl’s project involves making sandwiches for a specific individual she knows to be homeless and hungry, while a third is attempting to raise the money to buy a water pump for a disadvantaged community through UNICEF.
“Her plan was to make jewellery to raise funds,” said Ashley.
“She is five. She made one bracelet, which probably isn’t going to bring in the $500 needed for the well, so they are all helping her and working to make jewellery to help her with her project of buying this water pump.”
Some students wrote letters to the Kátł’odeeche First Nation’s chief and council addressing a range of issues.
The letters are set to be delivered to Chief April Martel on Friday.
One student is asking for the recreation van to help students who stay for after-school clubs get home during spring and fall, so they are safe from bears.
Katelynne Poitras focused on homelessness in her letter to the chief.
“I wrote a note to Chief April because I’m worried that somebody might die,” Katelynne told Cabin Radio. “I hope she can fix up the homes.”
Ashley noted that Katelynne had been centre-stage when her students went to watch Chief Martel’s swearing-in following November’s election, then held their own mini-election at school.
“You’re not really the chief,” Ashley recalls one student saying to the girl who won that mini-election, in an area of the classroom decorated to resemble the First Nation band office.
Katelynne responded: “No, but she could be.”