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Miranda Aysanabee speaks about her teaching experiences in Norway House, where she did a northern practicum last fall.

Students find a sense of community during northern practicum placements

Teacher candidates spoke about being warmly welcomed by schools and students in Churchill, Gillam and Norway House last fall

January 18, 2016 — 

Hearing about wolves roaming through town at night. Seeing polar bears floating on ice floes. Learning about northern cultures and languages.

These were some of the experiences enjoyed by teacher candidates from the Faculty of Education who chose to do their teaching practicum last fall in northern communities in Manitoba. Several students who taught at Churchill, Gillam and Norway House in autumn 2015 did a presentation at Jan. 11’s Practicum Debrief session to share information with other students who might be interested in doing a northern practicum next year.

“There was always lots to do. I was never bored,” said teacher candidate Nicole Wruth, who did her practicum in Churchill, Man.

Nicole Wruth talks about her northern practicum experience.

Nicole Wruth talks about her northern practicum experience in Churchill, Man.

Wruth told those attending the session that she enjoyed being immersed in such a different community than the rural area near Neepawa where she grew up.

She was placed in a Grade 5/6 split. “The heritages [of the schoolchildren] included Dene, Cree, Inuit and European. It was a diverse mix, which was nice.”

Wruth encouraged teacher candidates to not only get involved in the school and teaching, but also to get involved in the community and attend events such as free fiddle classes, skating or craft sales. She was able to see a “bear lift” where a polar bear who had been a nuisance to the town was airlifted to a more remote area.

The Northern Practicum, which is a partnership with the Frontier School Division, has been in place in the Faculty of Education since 2012-13, and has grown to include more students each year.

The program’s goals include increasing the number of practicum opportunities available to teacher candidates in rural and Northern communities, to cultivate a renewed relationship with Frontier School Division, Manitoba’s largest geographical school division, to break down stereotypes about working in the North and to raise awareness of Indigenous traditions and communities. The program also provides a viable source of employment for U of M Education students.

“Each of these communities is wildly different from the other but they are all rich in their own special way,” Melanie Janzen, associate dean, undergraduate, told those at the session.

Janzen said this type of experience can really “help teacher candidates define themselves as professionals.”

Students must apply to take part in the northern practicum and not everyone is chosen. The faculty provides housing and a $1,000 scholarship to each student to help with travel and other expenses.

Nicole James and Jodie Stewart went to Gillam. While they admitted that the drive was “a little stressful” because of the narrow highway, in general, “both of us had a very positive experience.”

They showed pictures of their front door after a blizzard and literally having to shovel their way back into their apartment and talked about hearing that wolves were roaming at night—though they didn’t see any themselves.

Nicole James shows photos of her practicum in Gillam, Man.

Nicole James shows photos of her practicum in Gillam, Man.

The pair, who are in the senior years stream, found everyone in the community welcoming. They also ensured they got involved in activities such as a parade, hockey tournament, volleyball, etc.

“We were lucky enough to make some new friends up there,” said James.

They also planned special student activities. Stewart’s Grade 9 class held a 24-hour famine in the gym to help students better understand the plight of the Syrian refugees and said it was a bonding experience for everyone involved.

Miranda Aysanabee, who is Oji-Cree, spent her practicum in Norway House, where she taught Grade 3.

She enjoyed free classes offered at the school during downtime. As well, she noted, “there was lots of time for walking and stargazing.”

She noted there were some downsides that students should be aware of, such as higher prices for some foods and sometimes no running water was an issue.

But, she noted, “there is a huge sense of community there. I loved being up there. Students should really consider doing this.”

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