Author: Editor Ed News

Spring 2022 Associate Dean’s Graduate Student Thesis Award recipients

Congratulations to Master’s students Willow Iorga and Bill Cook on being selected as the two  recipients of the Spring 2022 Associate Dean’s Graduate Student Thesis Award!

The Faculty of Education Associate Dean’s Graduate Student Thesis Award was established in 2021 to recognize outstanding academic performance of thesis-based graduate students (Masters and PhD) in Education.

This $2,000 award is granted to a student in a graduate program in the Faculty of Education who has exemplified academic excellence and research ability, demonstrated leadership ability and/or university/community involvement, and whose thesis was deemed meritorious by the Examining Committee.

De/colonising Educational Relationships

During 2020 and 2021, Dr. Fatima Pirbhai-Illich (University of Regina) and Dr. Fran Martin (University of Exeter) led a series of seminars on
“De/colonising Educational Relationships” and conducted research at the University of Exeter with grants received from the University of Regina’s Faculty of Education, the Centre of Educational Research, Collaboration, and Development (CERCD), the University of Exeter’s Graduate School of Education, and the Centre for Social Mobility.

The seminars were provided in two formats: As a weekend virtual retreat at the University of Regina on November 6 and 7, 2021, and as a series of monthly seminars at the University of Exeter. The topics covered for each university reflect the different audiences and contexts. For those interested in how the ideas were adapted for these specific contexts and audiences, visit the CERCD YouTube channel: Click here

Le Bac student helping to preserve Indigenous languages

4th-Year Baccalauréat en Éducation (Français) student Wahbi Zarry has beaten pandemic odds with his recently released video, 10 Days of Nakota, the second in a series of educational documentaries exploring Indigenous languages.

Produced and directed by Wahbi with director of photography and editor Tony Quiñones, the video documents Wahbi’s educational journey as he learns to speak Nakota in 10 days. The first video, 10 Days of Cree, was released in 2020. Despite the upheaval of the pandemic, including the loss of his father and uncle, Wahbi persevered to finish both his studies and the second video.

Wahbi conceived of the idea of the educational language videos after realizing how existing documentaries about Indigenous languages were slow-paced, not reflecting the vibrancy of the communities documented. “I mean there is no movement. We get the wrong idea about these communities. They are not at all like the documentaries; they are working, there are schools, there are education programs, people are fighting for their language, their culture, and I wanted to show it differently,” says Wahbi.

As a French language speaker who was born in Morocco and grew up in Paris, France, and who immigrated to Canada, where he learned English, and now Cree and Nakoda, Wahbi understands the value of language. “For me a language is what culture sounds like. Language is the mirror of culture. Losing the language is losing the communication part in a culture,” Wahbi is concerned about the loss of Indigenous languages worldwide. To save Indigenous languages, Wahbi says, we must “include the youth and create entertainment to learn this language.”

Enter: Crocus BigEagle and an entertaining video documenting Wahbi’s attempt to learn Nakota in 10 days.

Photo credit: Tony Quiñones.

In 10 Days of Nakota, 10-year-old Crocus BigEagle was Wahbi’s Nakota teacher; he smiles as he says, “She was sufficiently strict.” Their interactions are lighthearted and humorous. The final exam is conducted by the only remaining fluent speaker of Nakota, Elder Peter Bigstone (Ocean Man Nakoda First Nation). To receive his Nakota education, Wahbi moves from Ocean Man First Nation, to Regina, to Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation, and finally to Pheasant Rump Nakota First Nation. While the video’s tone is entertaining and heart-warming, that there is only one fluent speaker left is felt poignantly.

Wahbi says, “When it comes to Indigenous language in general, it is something extremely important. What kinds of structures do we have to protect these languages?” Officialization of Indigenous languages is one of the solutions Wahbi suggests: “What we do for the French language needs to happen for Indigenous languages.” Wahbi adds, “Braille and sign language should also be official languages.”

By producing these videos, Wahbi says he has learned to think differently about the concept of identity: “I grew up in Europe where the concept of identity is considered a bit of racism, or chauvinism, but in the Indigenous communities of Canada, identity means something else: language, culture, including others, it means sharing the knowledge. Now I see identity really differently than before.”

Parts of the video were intentionally filmed on the University of Regina campus. Wahbi says, “I did very good to apply to the University of Regina. It is very important to me to represent the University. Being a student here was a blessing.” Wahbi funded these videos himself as a gift, a way of giving back to Canada, a country he says, “gave me the opportunities I needed to do what I wanted to do.”

As a result of the documentaries, Wahbi has been contacted by Indigenous communities and others from around the world. His videos have cleared up a misconception that “All First Nations speak the same language.” Wahbi hopes the next video will be set in New Zealand, learning the Māori language in 10 days.

Watch the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzIBEZIBrps

Alumnus positively influencing change

Alumnus Christian Mbanza (BEd’17–Le Bac) is currently a French Immersion Educator at École St. Mary Elementary School in Regina. You may have seen Christian in the news recently regarding his work to bring Black history into prairie classrooms.

Christian has a passion for history and it is one reason he became a teacher: “I have a passion, not only about important events throughout history, but the people who were able to influence society. I had a history teacher in high school who would always tell us that ‘those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it,’ and that continues to echo in my mind. I see how true that is throughout society today.”

Black history is a particular focus for Christian, who says, “I believe that teaching Black history is often misrepresented or ignored in general and has created a negative image and perception around Africans/African-Canadians. In order for the perception to change, we must first know the history and properly teach the history. When students, Black or White, learn about the positive contributions of Black people, whether it be in science, art, law, and so forth, they are able to gain an appreciation and a new understanding. To ensure that Black history is being implemented, I encourage teachers to use resources by Black authors, writers, artist, and refer to famous Black scientists and mathematicians and incorporate primary sources into reading lists.”

A second passion for Christian is people, especially youth, which is another reason he became a teacher: “An educator can positively influence and change the course of a person’s life and that has always been my goal in becoming an teacher,” says Christian.

After 5 years of teaching experience at the elementary level, Christian has had the opportunity to define and refine his teaching philosophy. He says, “Experience is the best teacher. I have learned that effective teachers allow their students to make connections between content and acquire new knowledge that transforms into new ideas. That is why teachers have such a crucial role in the advancement of the community. Further, I am a firm believer in the power of relationships. Strong, positive relationships between teachers and students in the classroom are fundamental to promoting academic and overall student growth.”

Christian values the B.Ed. program he took with the Faculty of Education, “The B.Ed program has shown me the importance of challenging students to be the best that they can be so that they can positively influence our community.” Earning an education degree was, says Christian, “One of the proudest accomplishments of my life… I gained a passion and found purpose in education. Education has allowed me to gain problem solving abilities from multiple perspectives and, in my opinion, it has always held an important role in shaping the future of our society.”

Offering shout-outs to former professors, Christian says, “I had some very influential professors like Clay Burlingham, who changed my entire perspective on how history was taught; Dominic Sarny, who was instrumental in teaching me about cultural pride; and Jean Dufresne, who showed me how to implement my passion into what I teach and how I teach it. A lot of how I teach has really come from my education at the University and these professors especially.”

The most memorable experience Christian had as a French le Bac student was his experience at Laval University: “As a French education student, in order to develop our skills in French, second-year students spend two full semesters in language and cultural immersion at Laval University. This experience allowed me to grow as a person, student, and a teacher. By far the most memorable experience!”

Christian has now decided to work on his master’s degree with the Faculty of Education. “Pursuing a master’s will allow me to grow as a person, and I believe that it will help me create an inclusive classroom in a diverse world, while learning and growing my passions. As an educator I believe it is very important to continue to create the necessary changes in your life and in your classroom to impact our youth and our community.”

Why become a teacher? To be a role model

A story can be told about each of Education student Nahanni Evelyn Rose (Adams-Lindberg)’s names, which is not surprising when you consider that she was named by her mother, Carol Rose GoldenEagle, the 9th poet laureate of Saskatchewan. She was named after the Nahanni River located near Yellowknife, in Canada’s beautiful North West Territories (NWT). Yellowknife is where Nahanni spent her early years until the end of Grade 6, when her family moved to Saskatchewan. “Nahanni” is a Dene word that means “strong rock,” referring to a large rock that juts out of the Virginia Falls on the Nahanni River. Nahanni herself is a mix of Cree and Chipewyan (Dene). Her middle name, Evelyn, was given to her after the Evelyn Falls in the NWT. Given the meaning of her names and a childhood lived out in Yellowknife, it is little wonder that Nahanni loves to spend time in the outdoors and to hike.

Nahanni feels little connection with her current last name Adams-Lindberg. Adams is the name of the family who raised her mom after she was scooped in the 60s. And Lindberg is the family name of her father, who left when she was very young. “I still have a close relationship with my dad, but my name has no significance to me; that is why I want to change it to Rose, which has more meaning.”

Rose was name of the family’s first pet dog, adopted when they relocated to Saskatchewan. The significance of the name Rose, says Nahanni, “is that there are four letters in the word and there are four people in our family. Roses are beautiful but they have some thorns, like we have.”

Rose, the pet, brought their family together through the hardships they experienced after moving away from Yellowknife and through the difficult financial and emotional time while Nahanni’s mom, Carol, transitioned from being a journalist with CBC to a full-time artist/writer. Carol had been working on her first novel, Bearskin Diary, on top of her regular job and single parenting while the family lived in Yellowknife. But after a friend who had deferred his dreams until retirement passed away, Carol decided not to put off working on her art.

A year or so after settling down at Regina Beach, Carol left her job with CBC to establish herself as an artist. Nahanni says, “We ended up getting poorer at first. I know what it is like to grow up without money. But it all paid off in the end.” Nahanni points to the struggles faced by their family as showing, “what it’s like being raised by a single mom from the 60s scoop.” The difference being, “My mom ensured we grew up with a loving mom, something she never grew up with, a mom. I am living a happy life regardless of the obstacles my family has faced—we always make it out strong.” This outcome aligns with the oft-repeated family mindset of “Everything is going to work out.” And it has. Carol is now a successful published novelist, poet, playwright, visual artist, and musician and Nahanni is on her way to her chosen profession: teaching.

Growing up in Yellowknife was a great experience for Nahanni: “I loved it! I grew up with my brothers, grew up on the back rocks, playing outdoors, in the bush.” Nahanni is the twin sister of her younger brother (by 11 minutes) Danny, and the younger sister of Jackson. “It was like growing up with your best friends. They really looked out for me and made sure I was included,” says Nahanni.

Comparing her schooling experiences in Yellowknife to Saskatchewan, Nahanni says, “In Yellowknife, the students were mostly Indigenous. We didn’t see each other as colour; we saw people as their personalities. We were also taught Indigenous culture in our curriculum with activities like sewing class and a hunting class where teachers and Elders would take us out to the bush to learn how to snare rabbits and to dry meat. When we moved here, I felt like it was Danny and I, probably two out of the five Indigenous people in the school. It was hard making friends here. I’m just happy that I had Danny, he was kind of my best friend. I felt like I didn’t get bullied a lot. It took adapting to a new environment to learn who I am and I am happy in my place in life. I didn’t experience racism the way my mom did, but I felt that people did judge me by my look and not my personality.”

A couple years after moving to Regina Beach, however, their family became accepted as “locals” in the small town, and life became easier. “Now I work at the Beach Bar and I’m a local and everyone knows me,” says Nahanni.

When the time came for choosing a career, Nahanni couldn’t decide. “When I graduated high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do at all,” she says. It wasn’t until she turned 21 that Nahanni took steps towards deciding on a career. She made a pros and cons list for a variety of career options, and education was the option that stood out for her. “It checked off all the boxes: I’m good with people, love kids, and I want to be a good role model. I want kids to grow up with someone who actually cares because I feel like I’ve had teachers in the past, where some cared and some didn’t. I could see myself as a teacher who cares. Something inside of me spoke to me: ‘Be a teacher.’ You just get those gut feelings.”

While many of her family and friends affirmed and encouraged her choice to become a teacher, Nahanni remembers specifically one of her Lumsden high school teachers, Ms. Winter, who was a great influence on her. “She was the one who paid close attention to me; she built that student-teacher relationship. She made me feel seen and heard. Ms Winter would say, ‘Your mom raised you well’ and ‘You’re a good kid.’ That made me feel seen as an individual who is capable, able to do things, even if I didn’t understand something right away.”

Nahanni considers her older brother Jackson a role model as well because he tutored her throughout high school in math: “Jackson was patient even when I was frustrated. He would calm me down and encourage me.”

Being a role model is why the teaching profession is so significant; Nahanni says, “We are the educators that need to be there for students, not just as a job, but as they develop. A teacher should be someone that students look up to for the rest of their lives. Someone who is a role model. I want to be a role model.”

Nahanni chose the University of Regina (U of R) for her elementary teacher education program for several reasons: She wanted to stay in Regina because it was close to her mom and her twin brother. Nahanni adds, “I thought it would be a great place to study. I had heard from friends and friends of friends that this education program is the best in Canada.”

Her experience at the U of R has been positive. Nahanni says, “I love it. I was first accepted into the Faculty of Arts. I didn’t get into the Faculty of Education, I think maybe because I was a bit late sending in forms. I took three classes in the Arts program that all transferred over into my education program.”

The next year Nahanni was accepted as a transfer into the Faculty of Education. “I was so happy. It was the best thing ever. I called my mom and my dad and I cried and danced. It was a lot of emotion. I was alone in my house. I am really happy. It all worked out. That mindset of when I was a kid—I stay true to that today. Everything will work out,” she says.

A major obstacle Nahanni had to overcome to go to University was her tendency toward procrastination. Nahanni says, “I kept making excuses and putting it off, telling myself I was going to apply. Mom and Jackson kept saying, ‘Just apply!’ Jackson on a daily basis asked ‘Have you applied yet?’ One day I just did it because I didn’t want him asking me anymore. The next time he asked, I could say, ‘I did it already.’”

As advice to others considering becoming a teacher, Nahanni says, “Just put in your application. Don’t make excuses and see where it goes. Who knows, it might change your life. If you’re nervous or scared, that’s the point where you push yourself a little, because you know you want to become a teacher. I was nervous, too, afraid I wasn’t good enough to be a university student. Now I don’t think that at all. I know I can do it.”

Teaching hard truths in a positive way: Kâsinamakewin

Natasha Halliwell, a third-year Elementary Teacher Education student, can now add author and illustrator to her list of titles. A mom to 7 children, wife to Tyler, and former youth worker, Natasha along with two of her children, Tamika (14 years) and Keaira (11 years) created a picture book, Owl of US MATTER, which tells the truth of Canadian history “without opening the wound again,” in a way she believes will give “hope to future generations.”

The book is a culminating phase of a project that started with course work Natasha was required to do in her first year as an Education student, a Journey of Reconciliation assignment. Natasha says, “Learning about reconciliation in school was saddening; for me being Indigenous it was like picking at a scab. It was devastating. I had never even heard of the word reconciliation before I came to school. I didn’t know it was a thing… Learning about residential schools, learning about what happened, the stories, and being Indigenous, I was shamed. I was never proud to be brown-skinned. But then Dr. Fatima Pirbhai-Illich, I love Fatima, she is very passionate and very kind, and she showed me someone from a different colour that’s not Caucasian that cares authentically about Indigenous people and what happened and I thought that was unreal. She was taking the time to bead this little orange shirt as personal journey of reconciliation. I was required to explain what reconciliation was in my own journey. Since then, I’ve been brainstorming.”

Part of Natasha’s journey is having a mom and uncles and aunties who attended residential school. Though the experience at Lebret was positive for her mom because she made many close friends there, it was harmful for others in her family. One of her uncles started running away from residential school at age 7 or 8 and lived on the railway tracks for most of his life.

Natasha is proud of her heritage, living up to her maiden name Yahyahkeekoot: “It means nose to the sky. Be proud of who you are. Keep your head held high. My kokum taught me how to say my name … you have to clench your teeth tight and say it very fast.” She is of Cree and Dene background, with some Irish, Scottish, and French. Her mother is from Beardy’s & Okemasis First Nation and her Dene family is from La Loche, Saskatchewan. From age 7 to 11 she lived in Thunder Bay, Ontario, learning Ojibway legends at the boys and girls club, while her mom went to university to become a social worker, and while under the care of her stepfather, a refugee from Cambodia who had escaped the Vietnam war. “He was all about outdoors and survival. He taught me how to fight and survival skills. I grew up wonderfully like that,” says Natasha.

When her mom and siblings moved back to Saskatchewan, Natasha found another influence in her life: her uncle Leo Yahyahkeekoot, a Cree culture teacher in Saskatoon.

Natasha says, “My Uncle Leo really impacted me, just the way you can teach. Even though we all have our negative sides to this history, we can reroute it to the positive. Yeah it did happen, and it’s not going anywhere; it’s almost like we ain’t there, we’re in a shadow, that’s where I felt I was shamed. We need to help each other to make it okay. We all have our dark history, but it doesn’t mean we can’t forgive.”

After learning about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Natasha was concerned about the way triggering information is taught: “I learned about PTSD. And I started going through it, and I’m like, this happened to me. Okay, this is my family. And I started understanding my life a little bit more. And caring. And then I think because I learned about it through school, I’m able to spot things that are triggers. If we are going to have a trigger, because anything to do with residential school or the past can trigger, it needs to be taught in a positive way.”

“Kâsinamakewin – time to forgive” is the message of Natasha’s book that she hopes will make teaching the hard truths of our shared history less triggering and more positive. “You have to let something go for something new to come. Forgiveness. Putting us all on that equal playing field. It wasn’t only us that had something taken, and had that change, it was everybody. It was every living thing, including the sacred grandfather rocks, for instance. This book will teach the truth equally. It’s easy to comprehend. Easy to read and talk about,” says Natasha.

Natasha didn’t know what to do with her 2-year curriculum project until she conceived of a picture book through another class: “I had this class with Denise Morstad, and my personal art project, the whole thing just took off.” The book is designed to connect to the Saskatchewan curriculum. Natasha says, “My book connects outcomes in the Saskatchewan curriculum for every grade. Plus I have my teaching resources. It’s a big thing all in one.”

For the illustrations, Natasha and her daughters recreated many historical images using owls. Owls were an unusual choice, given they are a bad omen for First Nations. Natasha explains, “I wanted to get rid of race, the separation, the blame. I thought about the owl. An owl has many species that look the same but are different. So I used owls as characters. I use to hate owls; some are associated with death for First Nations. But my daughters love owls. Tamika loves the great horned owl, and Keaira loves the snowy barn owl.”

“I never thought I cared about residential schools, reconciliation, or being Native until I started going to university. I use to hate being brown. I was ashamed, it’s hard being brown. Even coming here sometimes, because you are the only brown girl in class, and then you see the odd one and you get really excited. I was constantly reminded of my difference, and that’s what really brought me to my book,” says Natasha.

Natasha hopes to ease the path for her children and future generations to have a more positive healing experience with education on reconciliation and residential schools.

“I don’t want my kids to feel that shame. They have friends who are Pakistani, Black, you name it. They come to their birthdays. We order so many different kinds of food. It’s so multicultural. I don’t want that diversity to die. I want kids to be able to have that without feeling that shame or separation because of an old fact in history. And well, yeah, there are things that need to be made right in terms of compensation and the Queen, but those things will get dealt with once more people are educated. Right now it’s almost a forgotten truth. It’s a hard truth to swallow. That’s why I needed my book. How am I going to be a teacher if I’m going to pull out all of these facts that I’ve learned? I wanted to compact that and make a friendly little version. ‘This happened, it’s done now. Let’s move on.’ I made sure a lot of facts and information in the book, but at a really easy learning level,” says Natasha.

An invitation to read her book to a class of students has already been extended to Natasha, and she has accepted. She looks forward to future opportunities.

You can view and purchase Natasha’s book at https://www.blurb.com/b/11160722-owl-of-us-matter

Inaugural Postdoctoral Fellow Incentive Award recipient announced

Award announcement: Dr. Needal Ghadi has been awarded the inaugural Postdoctoral Fellow Incentive Award in the Faculty of Education. Dr. Christine Massing, who has co-published with Dr. Ghadi on four refereed journal articles, will serve as his Postdoctoral Fellow supervisor.
 
Dr. Ghadi completed his Ph.D. in the Faculty of Education in 2020 with the supervision of Dr. Andrea Sterzuk. Given his outstanding academic performance, the Faculty of Education nominated him for the Governor General Academic Gold Medal and he was the recipient of the Associate Dean’s Graduate Students Thesis Award in 2021. He has co-published six journal articles and presented locally, nationally, and internationally.
 
According to Dr. Ghadi his doctoral study, “documented the intersections between language learning and capital of Syrian men living in Regina; finding that their established identities were eroded or altered due to the loss of their linguistic capital.”
 
As a Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Ghadi will extend his doctoral work to study the impact of COVID-19 on the language learning of adult Syrians in urban and rural Saskatchewan.

Study informs services and supports for South Central Saskatchewan newcomers

With the considerable increase in Saskatchewan’s ethnocultural diversity, understanding newcomer resettlement and integration processes in local rural and smaller urban communities is critical to the development of services and supports that will contribute to newcomer success, to the benefit of both local communities and the newcomers who reside in them.

To fill in current gaps in understanding, a University of Regina research team partnered with Prairie Skies Integration Network (PSIN) to conduct a local study entitled, “Immigrant Settlement and Community-Newcomer Integration in South Central Saskatchewan: A Local Data-Based Study.” The team consisted of Dr. Miguel Sanchez (Principal Investigator, Faculty of Social Work), Dr. Christine Massing (Co-Lead, Faculty of Education), Dr. Daniel Kikulwe (Faculty of Social Work, York University), Dr. Oluwasegun Hassan, (Saskatchewan Health Authority), Dr. Jérôme Melançon, (La Cité universitaire francophone), Lucrécia Raquel Fuhrmann (Ph.D. Candidate,
Faculty of Education) and Stephen Davis, (Ph.D. Candidate, Faculty of Education).

The research team set out to study the accessibility of the following five key topics that have been determined to contribute to successful immigrant resettlement and newcomer integration: education, employment, health and wellness, housing, and transportation. What follows is a summary of the educational findings of this study.

The literature confirms that further education allows newcomers to mobilize their existing resources, re-establish their credentials, develop connections, participate fully in the Canadian workplace, and integrate into their new society. For increasing income and employment rates, the research establishes the value of attaining a Canadian post-secondary education.

However, newcomers can find the transition into the Canadian educational system challenging; the system is especially difficult for those living outside of the urban areas due to lack of opportunities. Some newcomers emphasized the need for additional supports for understanding the Canadian system as well as their need to feel a sense of belonging in the system.

Challenges to navigating the education system and accessing further education. The researchers found, “Nearly one-third of survey respondents indicated that ‘knowing English’ was a pathway to further education.” Learning the Language was identified as a “a significant challenge” that must be overcome for newcomers to access further education and employment and thereby to successfully integrate. This study found that several challenges affect language learning including: access to training (which is limited by the lack of transportation, time due to family commitments, and classes tailored to newcomers’ specific needs); age at the time of migration (several participants of the study felt that coming to Canada when they were school aged facilitated their learning of English); and confidence to take risks and speak to others in the new language (opportunities to practice are necessary for learning language.) Access to minority language training, such as French education in Saskatchewan was said to be “especially challenging.”

Other factors related to education and affecting integration include the major challenge of having foreign degrees and credentials recognized. In addition, a lack of childcare and the prohibitive costs of education were identified as challenges associated with attaining further education. Lack of access to childcare had a higher impact on the ability of women to further their education. The cost of education for students who come to Canada on an international student visa is prohibitive, with fees over two times higher than fees for domestic students. Supports offered in educational institutions including educators, staff, and settlement workers were much appreciated by study participants. Recommendations are summarized in the following chart:

Watch for the full report which will be published at https://psinetwork.ca/

Alumna envisions schools as environments of empowerment

In March 2022, alumna and teacher Kiah Holness (BEd ’22) was honoured by Sask LEADS with an exceptional student award for being “an exemplary advocate for the well-being of Saskatchewan students.” Kiah says, “I truly cannot put into words the honour it was and is to be an award recipient. It was surreal to even be in the same room with such distinguished individuals in my career field and have the opportunity to network with them. It reaffirms to me that the work I have been doing and will continue to do in EDI and youth mental health matters.”

While a student with the University of Regina’s Faculty of Education, Kiah served on the Education Students’ Society (ESS) Executive as Vice-President of Professional Development (PD). This position gave her opportunity to organize many professional development opportunities for her peers. Kiah describes these events as, “treasured memories.” Kiah says, “I was able to unlock my passion for equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), truth and reconciliation, and youth mental health. I loved the real/raw conversations that we had during PD events, and I loved connecting and collaborating with our hosts to create an enlightening experience.”

Kiah has not only a passion, but also a vision for the mental health of youth and EDI in Saskatchewan. While an Education student, she worked on an initiative to promote policy change in Saskatchewan K-12 schools around recognizing mental health as an excused absence. The idea came to Kiah after watching a TED Talk about a student in the United States who was able to get three mental health days per semester passed. Kiah says, “I thought, wow, to create tangible steps towards destigmatizing mental health is so amazing! I wanted our schools to offer mental health days to students to destigmatize and target supports. Youth mental health and suicide rates are among the highest they’ve ever been. We need to be sure we can offer the necessary care and supports at the school-based level.”

Kiah decided to run the idea by some favourite professors. She says, “I had taken a class with Dr. Nathalie Reid, director of the Child Trauma Research Centre, who is absolutely one of my favourite humans. I could tell we had the same values and priorities when it came to education. This mental health days idea was on the back of my mind; I felt it was something I had to pursue, so one day I talked to her after class and I told her about my idea and asked her professional opinion and she was so on board. I ran it by Donna Nikiforuk, my field placement instructor, and she was also on board and so was the Dean, Dr. Cranston. Their responses were like, ‘Why haven’t we done this already?'”

With Nathalie’s guidance and support, the two were able to create a comprehensive Mental Health Attendance Policy Proposal, which Kiah says, “goes beyond the initial idea, but where we create professional development and opportunities for in-school mental health days for kids who don’t feel safe at home. We would also collect data to determine the schools that have the most mental health needs—just ensuring they are getting what they need.” Kiah hopes this policy would also create conversations around mental health in schools and at home.

As someone who has struggled with mental health since she was young, Kiah believes public conversations around mental health are important. Mental health was never really talked about at school. When that happens, it feels like you are othered. In high school, I realized how many of my friends struggle with the exact same thing.” Kiah sees that conversations are beginning to happen, but slowly. She has presented her idea to a school division and to Sask LEADS and continues to make plans in the hopes of creating change.

A second vision Kiah is passionate about is creating more representation in the education system. “I believe there needs to be more BIPOC/LGBTQ2SIA+ leaders and administrators, but in order to get there we need to create an environment in which they feel empowered to do so. We need to create an environment in which our marginalized students feel empowered every single day,” she says.

Creating environments of empowerment is all about “representation,” Kiah says, “so students see themselves in positions of power, leadership and authority. But even on a smaller scale, see themselves in literature and daily practices. I want to make sure that as a system, every student is perceived as valued. Having many BIPOC/LGBTQ+ people in leadership will let students know they can aspire to be in leadership in any field.”

This vision for representation, too, comes out of Kiah’s lived experiences. Kiah’s father immigrated to Canada from Jamaica with his family at the age of 4. Her mother’s family immigrated to Canada from the Ukraine in the 1900s. As a bi-racial student in a predominately White school community, Kiah encountered discrimination, racism, and microagressions from her peers and some teachers. Recalling an English class that was reading To Kill a Mockingbird, which repeatedly used an offensive racial slur, Kiah says, “Even if the literature uses racial slanders, I feel there is no ground that teachers should feel comfortable to say it. When the teachers say that word, the students think it is okay to use it. Some of my friends would just say the first three letters of the “n” word and say, ‘Oh, you’re just that.'”

Kiah’s curly hair also became an issue when she went to school: “I had a huge curly afro. I didn’t see a problem with it until I went to school where I was in a predominantly White community and I was the only one with curly hair. I started straightening my hair in Grade 1 or 2. It has taken me 20 years just to start to be comfortable with that part of me and letting it be curly sometimes,” she says.

In high school, Kiah began to find her voice and to relate with many of her teachers, to feel empowered: “A lot of my teachers really saw my potential and they didn’t look first at the colour of my skin, or who I was on the outside, they saw what I could do. I remember one teacher in particular believed in me so much, she pulled me out of my English class one day and she said, ‘Kiah, I believe in you, you are so good at public speaking, I want you to come and be part of this Business CASE competition at the U of R.’ Giving me that opportunity, she understood my strengths, and let me shine. It was so amazing. Instances like that were so empowering, where teachers just believed in me for what I could do rather than seeing the front. But the opposite happened too.”

These experiences inform Kiah’s teaching and her vision for creating environments of empowerment: “I had different privileges than someone who isn’t as White-passing as me. So I definitely learned where that got me in life. But there was also a battle between people who didn’t see me as White–passing, who saw me as Black, and then from others, somedays I would hear, ‘Oh, you don’t even seem Black, you don’t even talk like a Black person.’ What does that even mean? Hearing that I’m not Black enough, and not White enough meant I was constantly trying to figure out where I fit in. All youth are trying to figure out where they fit in. This experience really gave me the foundation to ensure that my classroom was a space that no matter who you were, you would fit in, you would have a place, feel safe and feel brave, and that you could have a conversation about these things.”

“Brave” is a word Kiah adopted from an ESS PD series on anti-racism with Dr. ABC: “Teachers are always talking about creating a safe space, and that’s great, but the idea of a brave space where you feel safe enough and then brave enough to actually go and do something—that just stuck with me, and will stick with me forever. I just really want students to feel brave within themselves, empowered within themselves, that they can do whatever they please, no matter who they are. Who they are and what they look like should not even be a consideration. They should feel like they have the strength and support, everything they need to go out into the world and do it at their best capacity.”

How cultures are represented in school also matters to Kiah. For instance, she says, “With Indigenous learning, we focus so much on the trauma and I think it is really important history, but as much as we are focusing on that, we need to focus on the brilliance behind those cultures. We are learning about death and broken promises every semester in every other class, which is really important for history, but I think it needs to be paired with the beauty and all of the amazing things that come with the Indigenous culture. Every culture is so much more than what happened to them, it’s how they rose from it.” This is wisdom she acquired from her bi-racial uncle who is from Ocean Man First Nation.

Making a difference, changing the world, empowering others: these are the reasons behind Kiah’s decision to become a teacher. “I realized my true ‘why’ behind teaching is that teachers have the power to literally alter the beliefs of society, change the world, and that is simply done through love. When we are leading from a place of love in our classrooms and alongside our students it allows us to give students a brave space to be themselves, to feel acknowledged, respected, safe, welcome, empowered, and above all, loved. I became a teacher to change the world and ignite more love.”
The teaching profession is all about loving relationships, says Kiah, “I think that content is really important and obviously the foundation, the curriculum, but relationships, that’s how we make change. When your students respect you and they listen to what you say, and what you say is about any of the EDI or mental health topics, they’re going to listen to that and take it to heart.”

On her internship, it was relationships that kept Kiah energized: “Those relationships really fueled me. A lot of times I would have students come to me and open up about their mental health struggles. They knew they could talk to me and we would figure it out, or I would walk them to guidance. I felt every single day I was there, it was for a purpose. I was doing what I was supposed to do.”

A highlight for Kiah while an Education student, and one that has given her a taste of what it is like to influence change, was an opportunity in 2021, when she was chosen as the sole student representative for the U of R President’s transitional committee. “That was something I will never forget. Being the student chosen out of all the students at the U of R. I was shocked. To be on a committee with Dr. Jeff Keshen, someone with so much authority, was really impactful for me. And not only to be on that committee, but to actually have real conversations about reform at the University, and BIPOC representation, just to have those conversations was so memorable. I felt like I was just one step away from making a change.”

Kiah is still envisioning her next steps that she hopes will lead to change in schools. She is planning to extend her initial plan for mental health days: “I’ve been thinking about creating a larger scale, more generalized non-profit that works to do the same thing, with the eventual goal of the mental health days, but to create PD opportunities, resources, funding for mental health/ first aid, all of that encompassed, and add in EDI, too: an organization that could really push the boundaries and make these issues a priority in schools.”

Even though she is brand new to the profession, Kiah has successfully pitched a change in her current school that works toward daily calls to action and truth and reconciliation. She is excited to continue to grow in her EDI practices as she moves through her career with Regina Public Schools.

Spring 2022 Education News

Click image to access the animated copy of Education News.

In this issue:
A note from the Dean….. 3
Change maker: Tranforming schools and society….. 4
Alumna envisions schools as environments of empowerment….. 10
Why become a teacher? To be a role model….. 16
Alumnus positively influencing change….. 20
Le Bac student helping to preserve Indigenous languages….. 22
Teaching hard truths in a positive way: Kâsinamakewin….. 24
De/colonising Educational Relationships….. 29
Study informs services and supports for South Central Saskatchewan newcomers….. 30
Equity, diversity, and inclusion research partnership agreement announced….. 32
Successful defences….. 34
Funding and awards….. 35
Published research….. 36
New book….. 38
Long service recognition….. 38
New staff|New position….. 39
Student fundraising….. 40