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Closing the Distance

December 19, 2013 — 

Perseverance and Dedication Bridge the 806 kms from Norway House to Winnipeg.

Photo credit: Marlene Anderson

Photo credit: Charlene Throop

In 2006, Norway House educators, Marlene Anderson, Verna Budd, and Charlene Throop, began the process of completing 30 credit hours in a Post-Baccalaureate Diploma in Education (PBDE) cohort called Resource Inclusive Special Education (RISE). Quickly it became apparent that they also had an Master of Education (M.Ed.) in their sights, but the distance between Norway House and Winnipeg presented challenges, challenges that neither the Faculty of Education or the students would shy away from.

Completing an M.Ed. was not something the students assumed they could easily do. As a result, the students along with Dr. Zana Lutfiyya, Associate Dean (Research, Graduate and PBDE Programs) arranged an approach to learning that allowed some work to be completed by distance and over the summer while the educators were on holiday. Together, they bridged the more than 800 kms and a ferry ride between each other and found a way to continue learning. It was also a testament to the Faculty of Educations commitment to closing the distance on First Nations Peoples access to graduate level work.

Summer courses were, admittedly difficult for the students. Being physically disconnected from family, and the lakes, rivers, forest and land they call home was hard, and adjusting to life in Winnipeg was only made less challenging as a result of being able to learn and spend time together. Also, working with faculty members who understand their situation and the opportunity to find community at the University of Manitoba through the Migizii Agamik (Bald Eagle Lodge) made the transition less lonely.

The land around Norway House, MB, Canada Photo Credit: Marlene Anderson

The land around Norway House, MB, Canada
Photo Credit: Marlene Anderson

Although the challenges and motivation behind completing an M.Ed. were similar for Marlene, Verna, and Charlene, their interests were different.

Marlene currently holds a position as an English Language Arts program consultant at Area 5 Frontier School Division. She began her journey as an educator over 30 years ago and has held many positions in her career. She has been as classroom teacher and a resource teacher, which led her to become a teacher leader in the Reading Recovery program where she supported teachers who taught students who are struggling in reading and writing.

Since completing her M.Ed. Marlene feels that her greatest accomplishment has been her growth in the better understanding of people. She explains, “The opportunity to be exposed to social devaluation theory of Wolfensberger (1998) in one of my courses made an impact on my life, because his works gave me a better understanding of some of the aspects of my youth, my personal life, my work with students with disabilities, my growth as a human being, and other people’s actions and views. I may have encountered information related to the social devaluation theory before, but I may not have been ready to receive and accept it; however, once I did, I felt somewhat justified of the anguish that I encountered in my life. I have been applying and integrating this understanding into my life and work. I am grateful to have been blessed with people in my life who have been supportive and encouraging, especially my husband, my daughter, my son, my sisters and my friends.”

Verna began her career as an Educational Assistant, then as a substitute teacher. She soon became a full time teacher and then a resource teacher in an Alternative Education class. She is now a half-time resource teacher and half time Acting Vice-Principal at Jack River School with a drive to promote Dr. Jennifer Katz’s Universal Design of Learning (UDL) model in the school where she works.

The M.Ed. experience for Verna offered her a tremendous amount of experience, knowledge and respect for herself, for her school children and for her community. She states, “My experience in the U of M, M.Ed. program was a dream accomplishment that was realized through hard work and dedication. Also I am extremely proud of what I have accomplished, because growing up as a child from a reservation, and with limited financial resources and raised by my elders, there is a lot to be proud of. I must give my elders credit for providing me with the proper tools to become the successful educator that I am today. They provided me with not only teachings about my culture, language and beliefs, but also about how to survive in the diverse world we all live in by practicing the teachings they left behind: These include language, culture, diversity among others and survival using the land and water. I connect their teachings to the UDL model and how I can promote it to other educators, the students and their parents.”

Charlene has been a paraprofessional, classroom teacher, resource teacher, science consultant, special services consultant, and is now a vice-principal at the Helen Betty Osborne Ininiw Education Resource Centre. She believes in life-long learning and is always searching for new ideas and learning opportunities for educators and students.

For Charlene, the completion of an M.Ed. is an important milestone. She explains, “It gives me a sense of pride, especially being an Aboriginal Educator. When I started my career in education I have wanted to further my education and I would have never thought I would be able to get an M.Ed. degree while working at the same time. It is through hard work, dedication and with the help of family, colleagues and staff at the university I was able to finish. Today I am applying my accomplishments by using the skills and knowledge I gained to benefit our school. I am able to share and utilize the research proven strategies to improve student success.”

The Faculty of Education and the University of Manitoba would like to congratulate Marlene, Verna, and Charlene on their perseverance and dedication to continuing education and on the completion of their Master of Education.

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