Category: Alumni Stories

Outstanding Young Alumni Award recipient

Alumna Christine Selinger

Christine Selinger (BEd’11/BSc’11) is recipient of the URegina 2020 Outstanding Young Alumni Award.

Christine Selinger is a dedicated advocate, athlete, and volunteer. As a student at the University of Regina, she was the first paraplegic woman to traverse the rugged Nootka Trail, became president of several student societies, and was a recipient of the President’s Medal. Today, Christine is a two-time world champion in para-canoe, an educator, and an emerging leader in sexuality and disability.

Christine sustained a spinal cord injury at the age of 19. Subsequently, she completed two concurrent Bachelor’s degrees in Mathematics and Education. She worked as a Peer Support Coordinator for the Canadian Paraplegic Association (CPA) and Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Ontario. Through her openness and candour about living life with a spinal cord injury, she has had a tremendous impact on the lives of individuals with recent spinal cord injuries.

Christine was a Canadian National ParaCanoe Athlete from 2008–2013, a two-time World Champion, and Saskatchewan Athlete of the Month in August 2010. She was also short-listed as International Paralympic Committee Athlete of the Month in August 2011.

In her professional and personal life, Christine bravely faces challenges to help improve the lives of people with disabilities. Her contributions to promoting women with disabilities in sport and her advocacy for the community of persons with disabilities, particularly related to issues of sexuality, make her an extraordinary member of the University of Regina alumni community. (From 2020 Alumni Crowning Achievement Award Recipients page)

Read an interview with Christine from 2017

Alumna receives U of R Professional Achievement Award

Alumna Rosalie Tsannie-Burseth MEd’01 is recipient of the U of R Professional Achievement Award

Rosalie Tsannie-Burseth has been a leader in education for 30 years as a teacher, a principal, and a Director of Education. She is an advocate for First Nations language and culture and a role model for many, including those in her northern home community of Wollaston Lake.

Rosalie has overcome many obstacles to become the respected trailblazer she is today. She is a Residential School Survivor who was taunted and forbidden to speak her language, yet persevered. She defied cultural expectations with her education and career path, paving the way for other women in her community and beyond.

Rosalie has served as the Director of Education at Hatchet Lake First Nation, as the Chief of her community, and most recently, as Associate Director with the Prince Albert Grand Council. She has received numerous awards, including the Governor General’s Citizenship Award, the Awasis Award, the Role Model Award, Women of the Dawn Award, and the Lieutenant Governor’s Award.

Read news post from La Ronge Now

Alumna feeds youth during COVID-19

Kam Bahia, founder of the I Am Her Foundation. Photo provided by Kam Bahia from her Instagram account @her_unfiltered

Being a teacher is an opportunity to change lives as alumna Kam Bahia (BEd ’08/MEd Psych ’19) is demonstrating. While a student athlete at the University of Regina (U of R) for five years, Bahia herself had life-changing experiences: “I was given life lessons on perseverance and balance,” she says. Education faculty Dr. Twyla Salm, Dr. Marc Spooner, and Dr. Ron Martin particularly demonstrated for Bahia “what education and passion are all about.”

Bahia has had many opportunities since to pass these lessons forward. With 12 years of teaching experience behind her, the Regina high school teacher has noted a rising “epidemic of self-doubt” among the youth.

“Each generation that passes through my classroom walls seems to be in more distress than the ones before. There is a common theme taking place: our youth are in crisis (for a multitude of reasons that exist now that never did when you or I were growing up). Decision making is rooted in our self-worth, but unfortunately, young people are facing an epidemic of self-doubt,” says Bahia.

Not one to passively observe problems, Bahia has reached out beyond the classroom walls to encourage, empower and equip youth by founding several youth initiatives. During some time spent in Toronto in 2017, she began the Bootcamps for Change initiative, which provides fitness classes for youth in shelters. In Regina, Bahia founded the I Am H.E.R. (Hopeful, Equipped, Resilient) Foundation in 2019, through which she offers workshops in elementary schools and high schools. Through this program, Bahia has opportunities for “raw” conversations about the real issues youth are facing. The I Am Her Foundation framed and inspired the U of R’s INSPIRE Young Leaders forum and is also behind Bahia’s latest conception: the Reverse School Bus Program, which she began in response to the current COVID-19 crisis.

Through the Reverse School Bus Program, Bahia is delivering meals to youth who rely on the school lunch programs in Regina. Bahia says, “When COVID-19 hit and schools closed, my first thought went to the vulnerable youth in our city. Knowing what I know as a teacher, and having witnessed the emotional crisis our youth are in, I worried about the students who not only lost out on a sense of structure and comfort, but as simple as it sounds, who lost out on one guaranteed meal a day that was provided through their school’s lunch program. During a time like this, a meal is one thing children or their guardians should not have to worry about. … Nutrition is the building block to emotional and physical well-being.”

To bring this program to life, Bahia collaborated with her brother, who is a co-owner of The Lobby Kitchen and Bar in Regina. Bahia says, “They too had to close their doors and were inundated with their own issues, but we decided to team up and use the inventory that was no longer being used for the restaurant business and provide hot delicious curb side meals for our most vulnerable youth.”

The program grew rapidly: “What started off as a few families, quickly turned into working with schools and Dream Brokers and providing anywhere from 50-350 hot lunches a week. The Lobby doubled down on compassion and provided their resources, staff, and kitchen to help get us started,” says Bahia.

This work has many heartwarming moments for Bahia: “If I could video record these deliveries, I think I would have everyone in tears. The kids will be waiting at the window, we pull up, and they start jumping and screaming, ‘The food is here! The food is here!’ Like children waiting for Santa during Christmas season. Makes you really appreciate the most basic areas of life. I have had families call me in tears, thanking me for this program because when schools closed down, they were worried about how they would provide a meal for their children. One child loved the jersey a driver was wearing. In that moment, the driver took the jersey off, and handed it to this young boy.”

The program made national news when Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Tam tweeted about the good work they were doing. Once the public became aware, there was an overwhelming response. Bahia says, “Our community started donating to our program. People from all over the city of Regina donated money and their time to help deliver meals. Our community is so rare—it’s so beautiful.” This generous, selfless response is what has surprised Bahia the most. “It just goes to show that in the deepest part of our being, the thing that gives us purpose and life is truly to give back.”

Bahia is grateful to live in Regina where people will go out of their way to help a stranger in need: “We have a community where people will literally give the shirt off their back; that’s something special. How lucky are we to call this place home? How lucky are those students who will be coming from all corners of the world to enroll at U of R to be able to experience this kind of generosity?”


Read #COVIDKindness CTV story

Land-based teaching feels like home

Garrick Schmidt (submitted photo)

Raised in Indian Head, Garrick Schmidt (BEd ’20) spent his summers and spare time “out on the land” in the Qu’Appelle Valley at Katepwa and Lebret where his Métis family members originated. There Schmidt learned from family members how to hunt and trap and about some of the plants and medicines in the Valley.

In recent years he has added to that knowledge, as he says, “I have learnt from Elders, Knowledge Keepers and also from genetic memory. I know it might sound odd or strange. But for myself I find when I am on the land, I am making genetic connections to ancestors and they are passing down memory of how to do tasks and knowledge.”

Out of his desire “to help shape and guide younger Indigenous youth to give them the best possible chance to be successful,” Schmidt decided to attend the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP) at the University of Regina.

As a family tradition, SUNTEP was an obvious choice: “My mother Patty-Lou Racette was a part of the first group of people to attend SUNTEP when it first became a program. … Being the third person in my immediate family and the second generation to graduate from the program makes it that much more special,” say Schmidt, who highly recommends SUNTEP for any Métis youth thinking about teaching because SUNTEP “gives Métis youth the opportunity to learn about family histories and continue to grow as individuals and professionals.”

Schmidt finished his BEd program in December 2019, and began teaching at Kakisiwew School on Ochapowace First Nation in January 2020. Even though a novice at teaching, Schmidt, with the support from his school administrator Riel Thomson and Director Nicole Bear, found opportunity to integrate land-based learning, taking his Grade 8 class out on the land.

“We are fortunate enough to have beautiful landscape right behind the school where we set up a trap line in the winter for rabbits,” Schmidt says.

Recently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and students learning from home, Schmidt has been posting land-based learning videos on social media.

Schmidt says, “I felt during these times of chaos and panic that my students, community members, and beyond would benefit from seeing my videos, and the videos would give a sense of routine for my students. I also wanted to create these videos because it is so vital that our youth are taken back to the land to learn traditional skills where family members may not have had the opportunity to pass these on to their children, or where students are in an urban setting and unable to do so as well.”

Land-based learning, besides getting students and educators out of the classroom setting, has many benefits: “With class size issues, multiple intelligence learning, and also behavioral concerns, by taking students onto the land, teachers can see almost immediate changes in students. I have had the chance to design my own time-table where I have created a land-based class for my students. Making cross-curricular connections to every subject gives me accountability for teaching Saskatchewan curriculum as well as traditional teachings.”

Though the videos were intended for his students and the other students of Kakisiwew School, they have been viewed by many more. Schmidt says, “I know my videos have reached out to British Columbia, Ontario and I’m sure beyond. I am very excited to see where things go in the next few months.”

“I have received amazing feedback from my videos. I am hoping that things continue to rise and I am able to reach as many people as I possibly can. Land-based learning and traditional content can be hard to find at times and I feel that with the advances in technology and recording it makes it easier for me to reach a much larger audience,” says Schmidt.

On a personal level Schmidt says land-based learning feels like home: “It takes me home to the land, the Valley where I grew up. … I can’t believe I have only been teaching since January. It feels like I have been doing this for years now. I love the support from the Ochapowace Nation community; everyone has supported me since day one and welcomed me with open arms making it home for me.”

See LeaderPost story


Student researcher concerned with accessibility to play

Whitney Blaisdell and son (submitted photo)

An interview (April 14, 2020) with Education master’s student Whitney Blaisdell (BEd /BA Visual Art ’14), whose research, focused around accessibility to play, has been extended by new funding focused on play during Covid-19 restrictions.

Why did you become a teacher?

I originally wanted to pursue teaching as a stepping stone to getting a master’s in library science. I quickly fell in love with teaching, however, and I’m fascinated with education.

What did you do after graduating with your BEd/BA?

I took a position teaching with the Regina Public School Board. I was offered a continuing contract while still serving my first temp contract. I’ve now been teaching for six years. I’ve been inspired by some of the strong teachers I’ve worked alongside and was encouraged to begin grad studies, which I began in the summer of 2017. As previously mentioned, I’m quite fascinated by the field of education. How a society pursues education: Who is trusted to educate, how they do it, why they teach the things they teach, what is exactly considered an “education”—these are all questions that I’m curious to explore. I’ve of course narrowed my graduate focus but continue to try to keep these larger questions in mind as I study. Education is a field that should be carefully scrutinized and held to a high standard. It’s an honour to have the ability to pursue graduate studies in such an interesting and important subject.

Why did accessibility to play become an important issue for you?

The first graduate course I took was taught by Karen Wallace and Patrick Lewis and it had a heavy emphasis on play, art, and story. This course, and some of Patrick’s writing he shared with his students, has had quite an impact on me as both a teacher and mother. The “erosion of play” (Lewis, 2017) has weighed heavily on my mind since taking the course.

Why did you choose to develop the Project Play YQR as part of you research for your thesis?

A friend offered me an idea to create a map of playspaces around the city. I loved the idea of constructing a functional project out of my research, and have taken it a bit further. I learned quite quickly that you can have the perfect play space, but a physical space only has so much to do with one’s ability to play. There’s a lot of privilege to play and many barriers between people and playfulness, as well as many factors that can help people feel and be playful. Considering how important play is, I wanted to explore these factors.

What insights have you gained from your research thus far?

Answering this question is so tricky—if I could do it simply I’d be a lot further along in my thesis. There is a lot going on when you see someone play. It’s complicated and beautiful. People have offered an immediate connection between the birth of their children and play. One’s labour and birth, even their pregnancy, has a profound impact on parents’ ability to attach, bond with, and play with their infants. These feelings—anxiety, being out of control, fear, shame, but also potentially empowerment or magic—they last a long time. It’s amazing how many parents (fathers included) of children as old as nine will bring up a traumatic birth of a child as a barrier to play.

Money comes up as a barrier to play even for people who are affluent. The commercialization of play (Lewis also describes this as a barrier in 2017) is far-reaching. Parents describe how their children’s expensive activities inform their own social circles. At best, structured activities for children do certainly offer a fun outing for families, a chance to socialize and meet friends, physical activity, and skill development. They can be a great facilitator for play if balanced well and a lot of accidental play happens around these activities as siblings congregate and run around the hockey arenas, etc. At worst, however, structured activities for children can become intensely competitive, performance-centred, shame-inducing and othering environments for children and their families.

A strong mental well-being facilitates play. I’m currently trying to access and analyze what exactly helps people get into a mental space that is free and open to play. High expectations and sexist treatment of women and mothers doesn’t help. Trauma, which appears incredibly common, doesn’t help. Great maternal health care providers help a lot. A strong network and community supporting a new family helps a lot. Seeing other people be messy and unapologetically playful appears to be a catalyst for one’s own playfulness. One could almost say that play is contagious. Conversations around the importance of play are important—and that’s something the Play YQR platform helps to provide. I try to advertise for play. It’s easy to forget just how magical unstructured play, particularly in nature, is.

What do you anticipate and hope for regarding your research impacts for your thesis work?

I hope that my thesis work has an opportunity to have an impact. That’s most likely an embarrassingly typical naïve, grad-student thing to say. There’s just a lot that’s coming up—play is an important topic to explore and there’s a lot of passion surrounding it. Some who tell me their stories express that they’re just happy someone is listening to them. They talk about trauma, birth, relationships, mental health, play spaces, programming…and together we daydream and re-imagine a community based around play-accessibility. A lot of what we discuss is possible. I suppose I hope that the community will listen to them alongside me. Part of why I incorporated a non-profit (Project Play YQR) is to continue co-constructing accessibility to play in and around Regina.

Project Play YQR recently received $5000 funding from the U of R’s Community Research Unit in partnership with the Regina Early Learning Centre (ELC) for a COVID-19 community-focused research project. How did this project/partnership come about?

The ELC is a fantastic organization. Since I incorporated Project Play YQR last summer, I’ve been working hard to highlight ELC’s services for the community. The Family Centre Coordinator Monica Totton is supportive and curious about the research findings and how they could potentially help improve the ELC programs and spaces for the community and I am happy to share findings with her. Monica truly cares about early childhood services in the community and seems to take every opportunity to do even better work. It’s refreshing and inspiring. Pre COVID-19 she had gently approached me about potentially doing some community research with them in the future surrounding a different topic. When this pandemic started, we connected again as we were both concerned with the effects the lack of playspaces and programming could have on people and their ability to play. The ELC also typically reaches a vulnerable demographic so we are anticipating that this research will help them to still have a positive effect on some of these families going forward.

As the Principal Investigator, what will the research involve?

The research will mostly use grounded theory, which is the method I use for my thesis research. It will be a bit autoethnographic naturally, which means that I will use how this pandemic has affected my own ability to play as an entry point to then explore openly and develop questions for exploring with other people. I am applying grounded theory in a way that resembles how Kathy Charmaz applies it. I will ask questions, listen to stories, analyze responses, and continue exploring depending on what new questions and patterns are emerging. Once I feel I’ve circled back enough times and the patterns are starting to repeat, I’ll narrow my intake of responses and focus on analysing and writing about what is being constructed. Through this process I may find a lot more interesting information than I originally thought I had, and may need to open the study back up for more responses if there’s an interesting pattern. Grounded theory is like those coin donation bins where you put the coin in and it circles around and around and its spiral grows narrower and narrower until it drops and every once in a while the coin starts moving upwards again. It’s not linear but it’s so much fun. I am hoping to put together a report to share that includes different ways that people are finding time and space to play during this time. Participants will be co-constructing this report together in community.

With play spaces no longer accessible during Covid-19 restrictions, and home becoming the play space, how does the current context affect the research and your perspective on the topic?

This is exactly our concern. The playspaces and programming around the city are important. When I ask people about play, they talk about going out. They talk about gathering with people. They talk about maintaining their own playfulness and passions which depends on other people stepping in to help with their children. What’s happening in our communities, although entirely necessary, will most certainly have an impact on play. We are eager to explore these impacts, and also eager to create greater accessibility to play in the home, whatever that may look like.

As for the technical side of the research: to keep everyone safe, all of the co-constructing of the research will be contactless, whereas I’ve done face-to-face conversations for my own thesis in the past. I’ve also used social media for my thesis and will be continuing to use that for this new project. We are hoping that, because the ELC is connected with some families that they do home visits with, we can incorporate these families in this research too. We are still working out how everything will look and of course will be held to a high ethics standard regarding every decision we make.

What do you anticipate and hope for regarding your research impacts?

People have shared that even just the presence of the Play YQR organization and research, since I share on social media (Play YQR on Instagram), helps to create a greater awareness and elevate the importance of play in their minds. I hope that this research can therefore facilitate a community consciousness of play. I am also excited for the collaboration with the ELC. This research will be a great means for them to reach more people, find out if and how they can improve their services, help clients in a new way, and potentially have an even stronger lasting impact on families that can’t typically access their physical spaces and services. Although this study is responsive to our current situation, the results will be relevant after the ELC spaces are open again, and for as long as our organizations continue operating. Part of our contract is that I will also be working with ELC staff to share information and do some education surrounding what ends up being co-constructed.

I anticipate that we will also develop a clear picture of what is actually helping people to be more playful at this time, and be able to share this information with the community. The community constructs and benefits from the project. I’ve seen some organizations adapt to the pandemic response by going virtual with all their programming and I’m curious to find out what else organizations can do to support families at home during this time (and after) without being in direct contact. I’ve found out through my thesis that part of the allure of physical playspaces is that when people visit them, they are at least temporarily relieved of their domestic tasks they face around their home. It is challenging for some folks to be playful at home where they struggle to relieve their mind of the mess, laundry, and uncooked meals they’re surrounded by. They depend on an actual physical compartmentalization for play via visiting playspaces. Some people of course are also able to work from home right now, which means most people are managing work, home tasks, and play all in the same environment. It’s necessary to understand what effect this will have on families and how they can be supported at home. I’m also curious to find out if working from home is a facilitating factor to play for any families.

What has been your experience of researching as a student at the U of R?

I’m thrilled with my experience in grad school at the U of R. The committee who supports my work consists of Dr. Marc Spooner, who is my supervisor; Dr. Valerie Triggs; and Dr. Patrick Lewis, who is mentioned above. It’s an honour to also have Patrick on the board of directors of Project Play YQR.

My committee has been inspiring and supportive. I’m grateful for their high standard for quality of work. It’s not lost on me how fortunate I am to have the committee members that I do. I’m also of course grateful to Lynn Gidluck from the Community Research Unit and to Monica Totton from the Regina Early Learning Centre for this opportunity and collaboration. This is an opportunity to do good work.

Alumna recipient of Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM

Heather Faris

In May 2019, alumna Heather Faris (formerly Haynes) got the news that she was a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award for teaching excellence in STEM. Regina-raised Faris’s first thoughts were, “It’s just what I do! Talent is from God. I have a wonderful opportunity in this school to get to be the off-beat, artsy-thinking teacher. I’m like, get an award for it?! I did not expect it and it was such an honour!” Faris adds, “When my principal told me that she was working with a group of people to nominate me, it brings a person to tears, it’s so humbling…but at the same time affirms that this is what I am built and born to do.”

Surprisingly, Faris wasn’t always headed for the teaching profession. She had an interest in biology, which began with dissecting earthworms in Grade 7 and with a love for the outdoors: “Just being outside on the farm with my Grandpa, walking in the fields, gardening, and knowing that I loved being outside in a way that not everybody did.” Thus, her first year at the University of Regina, after graduating from Sister McGuigan High School in 1989, was spent studying biology with the goal of becoming a vet. “My art teacher, Rand Teed, had set me up in high school with the Regina Animal Clinic,” she explains. Then, because she would “pass out every time they started to operate,” Faris decided some hands on experience at the Humane Society would help her and it did.

However, two years of working with animals at the Humane Society had given Faris a clearer view of what she wanted to do: she decided to become a teacher. “I was that kid who had the classroom set up in my basement and corrected work. I found it really fun then,” she laughs. In 1995, Faris graduated with her B.Ed. After travelling a bit, she then came back to teach as a substitute in Regina Catholic schools. After only two days of subbing, she was interviewed and given a short term contract at St. Augustine Community School to teach Grades 5 to 8 science. Then she was hired full-time at Archbishop M. C. O’Neill High School. Thus began her, at this point, 22-year teaching career, including teaching science at Dr. Martin LeBoldus and currently senior science teacher at Miller Comprehensive High School.

When asked what qualities she thinks make for excellence in teaching, Faris responded, “There are a lot of qualities that make a good teacher that I possess but others don’t necessarily possess. And others possess qualities that make them good teachers that I don’t necessarily possess. So we are not all the same, we are very different. But a quality that makes me a good teacher is that I’m creative. I love creating, I wake up in the night because I realize how I can re-imagine that lesson and make it better. That’s one of my strengths.” Faris believes that all scientists are creative beings, pointing to Leeuwenhoek, DaVinci, and Bacon.

A second quality that makes for excellence is being observant. Faris’s science teaching has been inspired by what an art teacher once told her: “Draw what you see, not what you think you see.” For Faris that means, “Observe what you see, what you hear, what you smell, what you taste, what you touch. Not what you think you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch.” One can achieve this, she says, “by really being in the moment. I tell my students to walk through life with their eyes open. That means don’t put in the headphones, or put up the hoodie. Look around and ask, ‘Why does grass not grow under a pine tree but it grows under the deciduous trees? Why do these trees have seeds and those trees do not? Trust in yourself to hypothesize as to why.’ It’s the synthesis of life when you walk with your eyes open.”

Passion for learning is a third quality that Faris thinks is important to demonstrate. She is a model of active learning for her students as she continues to learn. As an example, she says, “All my students know I have guitar lessons on Tuesdays at 3:30.”

Faris’s passion for learning extends to her craft in teaching biology. In 2010, Faris returned to the U of R to do a Master’s in Education. Through her research, she tested her own hypotheses about teaching and learning biology. She knew the follow-the-recipe approach to labs had to change for science to become richer and more engaging for her students. Following a set of instructions and modelling the steps was not giving students an understanding of why the experiment worked or didn’t work. She developed a new lab procedure, which she now calls an investigation or inquiry rather than lab: “I called it turning labs inside out. Push the bottom to the top. Leave the middle out, get there how you want to.” In their investigations, students are given an endpoint, for instance to create osmosis diffusion, and they are given all the materials they need to achieve the endpoint. No instructions are given. Students then spend one day in the library to discover how the materials work and what they do. Then they are given five days to play. They work in teams and can consult with other teams, but not her. At the end, students do photo write ups. “The story takes us on paths of things that didn’t work and things that did, to the end point. So much of science is what didn’t work. Like cancer research is not a direct path to success. The students told me it taught them to stick with it and not to give up. And about how big small successes were when they had a hypothesis about something such as how Benedict solution works.” The research validated what Faris was doing and hearing from her students about how they were engaged.

Excellence for Faris has also developed through participating in curriculum development with the Ministry of Education, through research opportunities such as an NSERC CRYSTAL project, and through seeing connections within the science curriculums, such as biochemistry and its connection to the health sciences and body systems.

Faris sees her role as being effective because of her care of students, more than a love for science: “I don’t just teach my students science. Science is my vehicle. At the end of the day, it is not about these facts of science. At the end of the day [it’s about] if I can teach them about the love of learning, about being their awesome selves, and about being where they are. They come here to learn about who they want to be in the world.” Faris considers her students the wind beneath her wings: “When they come in and say this is my favourite class, I say, really? We haven’t even done anything cool yet.”

As Faris considers her future steps, she says, “I’m just walking and things unfold. We will have to see how it unfolds. I’ve never experienced a change I didn’t like better.”

You can read Faris’s Master’s thesis here:

Alumna Brianne Urzada Recipient of Humanitarian and Community Service Award

Alumna Brianne Urzada. Photo source: CBC
Congratulations to Brianne Urzada, BA/BEd’12 (with distinction), recipient of the Humanitarian and Community Service Award, University of Regina Alumni Crowning Achievement Awards.
At the age of 23, this art educator’s life was turned upside down when she received a diagnosis of stage three Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Now cancer free, Brianne is using her experience and talents to improve the lives of others with cancer in the community. Brianne is the founder of Arthouse, a program that offers free art classes to cancer patients and survivors. The inspiration for the program was Brianne’s own experiences during cancer treatment and the power of the creative process, especially during a time when so much is out of one’s control. Arthouse is a place where the therapeutic and meditative qualities of art are shared. It offers patients opportunities to unwind and connect with people going through similar experiences. She has also hosted many fundraisers to showcase her art, including the incredibly successful 5 Stages Art Show which raised $63,000 for the Allan Blair Cancer Centre.

How one internationally educated teacher became a teacher in Canada

Photo (L-R): Anna Lucero shaking hands with Domenic Scuglia, Director ​of Education, after she signed her continuing contract with Regina Catholic Schools Division (May, 2019). Photo credit: Gordon West, RCSD

Anna Lucero was a teacher in the Philippines for 15 years before moving to Canada. After taking three University of Regina courses, and her TESOL language test, she was eligible for her Saskatchewan teaching certificate. She is now teaching elementary students in Regina and is also a lecturer for elementary math education at the University of Regina. Her work as a teacher in Canada has exceeded her expectations and hopes.

Not long before moving to Canada, Anna had landed her dream job of teaching at an exclusive school in the Philippines: “The position in the Philippines was like a birthright. You had to wait for someone to retire to get such a position.” Over the 15 years of teaching elementary school mathematics, Anna had worked to prove herself capable of such a position, taking master’s courses and honing her craft, and in time, her dream became reality.

A devoted mother to two children and wife to Paulo, Anna had everything she could hope for. But it wasn’t long before their family was faced with a big decision: Paulo had been offered a job in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. After much discussion and weighing of pros and cons, they finally decided to immigrate to Canada.

An optimistic, energetic person, Anna thought she would be able continue her teaching career in Canada. But teaching started to seem like a far-off dream when they were told by others that it was not possible for her to teach here. Anna started to lose hope: “My world collapsed. Teaching is the job I’m trained for. Now I was being told I can’t teach!” Anna, in an attempt to salvage her self-worth, took a job at a fast food restaurant. But this did not prove satisfying for her. She says, “Working there, I thought, this job is not for me. Every night I was in tears. This was not what I dreamt of.”

However, with Paulo’s encouragement and support, Anna organized her credentials, transcripts, and papers and submitted them to teaching services. When they heard back about what would be required, Paulo suggested, “Why don’t you go back to school?” So Anna applied, and was accepted to the Faculty of Education, University of Regina. Paulo’s parents then came to visit from the Philippines so they could look after their children while Anna upgraded her education.

The next step was to meet with Nicole Glas in the Student Services Centre, whom Anna found, “very supportive. She arranged everything so it worked perfectly.” Anna needed to take three courses to become certified to teach in Saskatchewan.

At first, Anna wondered why she needed any more classes because she had already finished 30 units of an MA in math education in the Philippines. When she inquired, she was informed that the courses were necessary to learn the Saskatchewan curriculum. That made sense, so Anna finished her three education classes in reading, physical education, and science. All that was left was the TESOL English test.

By that time, Anna was a mother of three (a surprise new baby), and working as an assistant with a research unit in the Faculty of Education. “I was actually happy working in the Unit,” she says. “I was reconsidering being a teacher because I enjoyed working at the University. But it came to a point that the work was becoming less challenging, and I realized I needed to be in the classroom.” Anna began teaching as a sessional in math education courses at the University, and with the support and gentle pushes of colleagues such as Michael Tymchak, Julie Machnaik, and Vi Maeers, she decided to take the next step: she signed up to take the TESOL test on a Friday, took the test on Saturday, and passed. Ordinarily there is at least a week to study before taking the test, and many often have to retake it, so this was an extraordinary feat! Anna says, “It made a difference that I wasn’t at home; I was working, so I was listening, reading, writing, and speaking in English daily, which helped a lot.”

Anna then applied to the Regina Catholic School Division and was hired for a split position at St. Dominic Savio. She is now in her fourth year of teaching with Regina Catholic Schools. Teaching is going well for Anna. She enjoys teaching in Canada even more than the exclusive dream job in the Philippines. Why? “All aspects are better,” says Anna. “In Canada I am treated as a professional. People acknowledge you for what you are doing. People are not squashing you down; they are pushing you up. I feel valued. I can see the different kinds of people here, and I can see that in our environment, I am treated equally. I am surrounded by people who are respectful. Even though I loved the job in the Philippines, here the people I am working with are absolutely amazing. Financially, it is rewarding, too. At the exclusive school I was above average income. Here my years of teaching are acknowledged in my salary.”

Still, even with this glowing report, there are still difficulties. Anna says, “Teaching students in a different country, that is a struggle. It’s the communication piece—I don’t speak as fluent as other teachers.” Anna explains that the way she pronounces words is due to being taught English by a Filipino, who learned from another Filipino. Anna feels fortunate to have had a teacher coach who assisted her when she started teaching in Regina. “They [the administration] knew I was not speaking in my first language and that I have to teach English. So, a teacher coach was given to me for a few months to teach me different strategies for teaching English.” The support she receives from colleagues gives Anna the sense that school is an extended family. “I’m not here just to teach, to do a job. No, this is like another family!”

Anna is now teaching at St. Peter School, which she says is “a good fit for me.” The school has a diverse school population with about 55% of students from countries other than Canada, and many of these students are from the Philippines. Not only is Anna helping newcomer families with information about how their children can be successful at school and in the community, she is working to assist other internationally educated teachers (IETs) to become certified in Canada. Anna, who as one of the few IETs that are teaching in Regina, has had many other IETs reach out to her, wondering how to go about becoming qualified to teach in Canada. So, she decided to form a supportive group to assist these teachers. Anna is also involved with a University of Regina research project with Dr. Xia Ji and Julie Machnaik exploring a bridging program for IETs in Saskatchewan. And she has led two Filipino information sessions at the University.

Anna says, “I salute all those who were teachers back in their home countries, but who are not teaching here. If you ask them what they are doing, they are often caretakers or doing something other than teaching. They have degrees; they have education degrees! How come they aren’t teaching? Is it because they don’t know how to start? Maybe they were discouraged by other people and they just believed those people. They have to try to figure out what they want to do. The thing you should know is what you want to do in your life. For me, my passion is teaching.” says Anna.

Thinking back on her experience, Anna advises IETs currently hoping to teach in Canada: “You have to hold on; you have to believe that even though others are turning you down, you can teach here, if you have the drive and passion to continue.” Knowing that teaching was her passion, that teaching was what she really wanted to do, helped Anna find her pathway to success.”

By Shuana Niessen

Alumna recognized as one of Canada’s 2019 Outstanding Principals

Interview with Katherine LeBlanc (B.Ed. ’90)
Principal in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut at Maani Ulujuk Ilinniarvik

In January 2019, and in her 10th year of being a principal, Alumna Katherine LeBlanc was recognized as one of Canada’s Outstanding Principals by the Learning Partnership. LeBlanc grew up in Peebles, SK, went to school in Windthorst, and spent most of her career working with Horizon and Good Spirit school divisions. She and her RCMP husband “jumped at” an opportunity that would be “checked off their bucket list of to-do’s” before retirement, to go north to Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, where for the past two years, LeBlanc has served as principal at Maani Ulujuk Ilinniarvik (MUI), Kivalliq School Operations. The following is an interview with LeBlanc. The Learning Partnership states that LeBlanc in a short time has “transformed her school into a reflective, responsive to the community, safe, caring and inviting place to learn.”

Where you surprised when you found out you had won this award?

Oh yes. I knew I was nominated, but it never occurred to me that I would make the top 30. I feel there are so many deserving leaders in schools and “it is nice to just be nominated” I was overwhelmed. I shed a few happy tears and then for the next few weeks it drove me crazy not to be able to tell anyone until the announcement was officially made.

What does a day in your life as a principal in the North look like? I get to work very early. Usually I am short staffed and spend a lot of time trying to find subs. Often I can’t find them, so I spend time re-arranging schedules or my VP and I take turns going into the classes and ensuring instruction happens. If I don’t have to teach, we make sure there are snacks for our children – we have some very hungry youth. I always go say “hello” to my Elders. We have two Elders: One works helping our students make traditional tools, building igloos when the snow is just right, and helping with our land trips. Our second Elder teaches traditional sewing, skin prepping, and cooking with our students. She is also allowing us to digitally record her as we are trying to make sure we don’t lose her stories.

I try to go into every class in my school at least once a day. Sometimes it is a short visit; other times, I am doing my walk through or just helping students. I always pop into our guidance area a few times a day as this is where some of our older students need someone to talk to. Then there is the normal everyday things like checking attendance, administrative paper work, meetings, etc.

How does working in the North compare and contrast with your previous experience in the South?

I would say some of the biggest differences that I have faced are in the courses we offer. We teach students how to skin a seal and prepare it to make traditional clothing and food. We spend a full day out on the land learning how to build an igloo – for a school credit. We even take overnight land trips on the tundra in the winter! Learning about the cultural classes has been a very unique and rewarding experience. Of course, we have the similar ones, too like math, science, English etc.

How is it you’ve come to stand out in your field in such a short time?

My first goal when I got to MUI was to ensure that the students had a safe place to be. We worked hard to make sure our students felt involved in their education. One young man spoke to me about his connection with the culture and how important land trips were to him and how it has made a difference in his education. Doing my doctorate, I understood the need to work to embed culture into all we do at MUI, but hearing it from this young man made me want to help students also feel that they too were part of sustaining culture. I felt it may be a way to empower them – thus we started doing some video stories about culture.

We also shared the Inuit culture with schools in Saskatchewan. We connected via ConnectEd North into a school in Saskatchewan where my Grade 12s showcased their culture and highlighted the challenges they face up North like housing, food costs, isolation while also sharing hunting stories and cultural stories. For some of my students, they have never been out of Rankin Inlet and for others, they have never been out of the North. It was important for me to have them share their beautiful culture.
I do feel a little overwhelmed by the whole award. Honoured, but I do feel there are many principals in this nation that are more deserving. I have a great staff, students and community who are willing to work hard to meet our students’ needs and willing to work with me to ensure our students have a safe, culturally responsive environment

What obstacles or challenges have you encountered in creating the transformation at MUI? How have you overcome these challenges?

I think the biggest obstacle for me was learning about a new culture. I love the Inuit people. They have been so welcoming to me. However, my biggest concern has been my lack of knowledge about their culture. I try to engage myself with community activities, ensure Elders feel welcome in the school and try to incorporate as much traditional knowledge that I can. This means I have to rely on Elders and experts to share their knowledge not only with the students but with myself and my teachers. It can be a challenge getting some of the Elders in for many reasons. We have two that come each day and work in our traditional tools and in foods and sewing. There are many Elders in our community that can share stories but may not be able to come for various reasons, so we have tried to make them more comfortable by having teas or social events for them.

I also have attendance issues. For various reasons, there are students who do not attend. This was very unfamiliar to me. My goal was to get them in the building and make them feel welcome. If students feel part of the learning, then maybe they will stay.

I also have mental health challenges that face many of my students. We had a suicide in our community last year. I had never even met the youth, but I was devastated. I knew we needed to be resilient but also empower students to find ways to overcome these obstacles. We arranged a huge Red Cross conference for students. This focused on healthy relationships, dealing with grief, bullying, empowering themselves, etc.

Because there was an attempt for culture to be taken away during colonization, I feel it is my responsibility as a leader to try to show how important the Inuit culture is. We had Dark Spark come up and do videos and songs with our Grades 7 and 8 students. They got to write their own songs that showed the beauty of the Inuit, their traditions etc. Please check them out online and you can actually see the work my students did. Absolutely amazing!

So I guess, I am trying to overcome the obstacles by making sure I put as much culture back into the school as I can.

What is your vision for your work? What experiences informed/motivated your administrative vision?

I think my ultimate goal for my students is that they can be part of preserving our Elders’ stories and traditions. When Elders visit our classroom, they have so much knowledge that they can share. But unfortunately, these Elders will not be here forever, so it is our vision to ensure that these stories and traditions are preserved. We are slowly trying to capture their words and their language digitally. I wish it could be done faster, but to do this justice, we need to be patient.

I think my motivation comes from some of my research about mental health and loss of culture. Nunavut experiences some of the highest mental health issues in all of Canada. If we as a school can do our part to help sustain culture, then quite possibly we are helping our students feel included.

I also am fortunate to work with singer/songwriter Susan Aglukark. She has been an inspiration to me. Through her Arctic Rose foundation, she has put art therapy into our school as a means of battling mental health issues as well. Students come every day after school to do traditional art with sometimes a modern twist to it. Students have a safe space to be after school, learn a bit more about their culture and where they come from, what the story of their name is and build friendships.

What experiences have formed the passion behind your work?

Building a safe learning culture is very important to me. Students need to feel that they belong, and they are in a place where the adults in the building care about them as a whole. Colonialization is not in the distant history for the Inuit. I believe in Reconciliation and I need to do my part in this.

I also have students who are experiencing intergenerational trauma. This devastates me and each week I see evidence of the trauma some of my students are facing. Again, research states that the disconnect with culture has an impact on students and their learning. My vision is quite simply that students feel connected with their culture and education ensure that this can happen.

One reason you were recognized with this award is because of your understanding of the importance of sustaining cultural connections and pride in student and family heritage and traditions. Your focus includes the use of digital literacies and support of the Inuit language. Can you explain what you are doing and how you are using digital literacies as a way to embed culture?

We are slowly doing this. In our Inuktitut class, students are trying to video Elders and then translate their story. Our communication class has tried to highlight Inuit traditions like sewing in video. When we want to embed culture, we are trying to show connections in each of our classes with culture. For example, in science, when we talk about global warming, we look at how it specifically effects the Inuit, the caribou, etc. In shop we look at traditional tools and learn how to build them and how to use them. We try hard to incorporate Inuktitut in all of our students’ presentations. We are lucky to have two Inuktitut teachers and a school community counsellor who will help students and teachers with this. Our teachers try to find a way to embed the Inuit culture into their teachings to make it more relevant.

Do you have any mentors at the Faculty of Education, University of Regina?

I do. I was lucky to go to university with Dr. Val Mulholland. I think of her as a friend and a mentor. She is amazing at what she does and has great insight of what education should look like. She encouraged me to pursue more education than my B.Ed. I truly admired Jerry Orban. When I was an administrator in Saskatchewan, he was someone who I did contact during internship programs. He always had the time to talk and help. His passion for the internship program made me want to be more involved. I also love following Dr. Couros on Twitter. I really like the messages he sends. I also like how he engages his students via social media.