Congratulations to Dr. Uwakwe Kalu, one of two recipients of the spring 2023 Faculty of Education 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/dissertation was deemed meritorious by the Examining Committee.
Kalu successfully defended his dissertation titled, “Intergenerational Knowledge Transfer in Traditional Herbal Medicine (THM) Practices among the Igbo Tribe in Nigeria: A Qualitative Study” on July 11, 2022. His Co-supervisors were Dr. Abu Bockarie and Dr. Douglas Brown. Committee members were Dr. JoLee Sasakamoose, Dr. Anna-Leah King, and Dr. Florence Luhanga. The External Examiner was Dr. Ranja Datta.
In his doctoral research, Kalu explored the “assertion that traditional herbal medicine (THM) has been a reliable source of health to Africa before colonization, which raises pertinent questions about how the THM knowledge was acquired, sustained, and transferred before colonial incursion.”
“One cannot talk about intergenerational transfer of knowledge without recourse to the role of learning/education in knowledge acquisition, preservation, and transfer, which makes education and intergenerational learning co-constitutive in the study. The study concerned itself with the role of learning in the intergenerational transfer of THM practices among the Igbo tribe in a postcolonial Nigerian society,” explains Kalu.
Fieldwork for the study was conducted during the period when the world was on lockdown due to the ravaging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic led to a global call for robust health care services to tackle the menace. Kalu says, “Therefore, there is the need to preserve, promote, and transfer the knowledge and practices of traditional herbal medicines (WHO, 2009), and my hope was that the study would contribute to the implementation of the WHO decision on promoting THM practices among Indigenous communities, Igbo society in particular.”
Kalu had several reasons for choosing his research topic: “Firstly, I embarked on this journey as part of my ‘little’ contributions toward decolonizing Indigenous practices. Secondly, I conceived the idea of the research topic during the heat of the Covid-19 pandemic while helplessly watching people die daily in thousands, globally. Thirdly, it is a product of psychological and emotional bewilderment exacerbated by the defencelessness of reliance on Western medicine alone for global health care needs. Finally, it is part of my contributions towards facilitating robust global healthcare services by revamping traditional medicine practices.”
Kalu currently works for Creative Options Regina. Because Kalu found the Faculty welcoming, he says, “I have already been recommending people to take their program with the Faculty of Education.”
Congratulations to Education student Ace Casimiro on being awarded one of three University of Regina Retirees Legacy Scholarships! The $8000 award goes to three University of Regina students going into their final year whose “potential for doing graduate work has come to the attention of faculty members.”
Dr. j wallace skelton, who nominated Ace for the award, wrote, “Ace’s final project was a series of detailed on-line learning modules for teachers of English Language Learners to support them in becoming more inclusive of 2SLGBTQA+ students. It was interactive, rigorous, detailed, engaging, thorough. The sheer volume of research Ace had done to put this together was well above my expectations for a 3rd-year class. It’s classic Ace that his response to the assignment was to see an actual need in the world (a lack of 2SLGBTQA+ resources specific to ELL classrooms) and to then work to create professional quality resources to meet that need. It was clear that he had a deep understanding both for the topic and ways to motivate teachers to change their practice. In education, we encourage students to employ a social justice lens a teach for justice. It’s clear that that infuses Ace’s work and thinking.”
This is only the second time the award has gone to an Education student!
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.
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.
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.
If anything, this pandemic has highlighted how valuable teachers are. They contribute so much to society and make a world of difference. This news story from April 2021, tells how Amy Brandt’s undergrad arts ed project became a community building exercise.
“What started as a university art education project has grown into a community building exercise in Cochrane. Amy Brandt is studying to be an art teacher. Her instructor at the University of Regina challenged the class to create an art project that brought people together in a COVID safe manner.”
Jessica Irvine (BEd ’08, MEd ’19) is recipient of the CSSE-SCEE Cynthia Chambers Award for her master’s thesis, “Writing and Teaching Curriculum With Relationships in Our Place: A Critical Meta-Analysis of Saskatchewan Core French Curricula’s Cultural Indicators,” which she successfully defended on November 29, 2019. Irvine was supervised by Dr. Heather Phipps. Committee members were
Dr. Valerie Mulholland and Dr. Anna-Leah King. The External Examiner was Dr. Michale Akinpelu, La Cité Universitaire Francophone. The following is an interview with Irvine.
What personal and/or professional circumstances prompted you to take your master’s degree?
I have been a Core French educator with Regina Public Schools since 2008. Primarily, and most recently, I teach elementary, Grades 1-8. When the new elementary Core French curriculum was released in 2010, I felt disconnected to it. I also felt students were disconnected to Core French overall and most complained about having to take it. I couldn’t figure out why that was. I began to question if it was me as a teacher? Or me as a person? I came to a point where I had to find the answers and how to change this negative response to Core French or I’d lose the passion to teach Core French that I’ve had since I was a child.
I also felt overwhelmed by the Core French curriculum, which has outcomes and indicators for student tasks based on the recommendation of 120-200 minutes of French education per week. Students only receive 60-90 minutes typically in a week due to timetable constraints.
Further, the new curriculum introduced several Indigenous cultural knowledge strands. Because I completed my Bachelor of Education in 2008, I did not have any teacher training or education on Indigenous content in the curriculum. To be honest, I was scared to teach it as I wasn’t sure I could or if I’d teach it wrong. For the first few years of the new curriculum, I avoided Indigenous content.
However, in the 2015-2016 school year, when I was teaching a unit about the fur trade, about Carnaval de Québec, to Grades 6 – 8, a student spoke up and said that he wished we learned more about the Indigenous people and their languages in school. He expressed that my lesson on the fur trade is another example that French came after Indigenous languages, so why are they rarely taught? The student had a Cree and Saulteaux background and what he really was asking “Why aren’t we learning more about what’s relevant to me, too?”
His question promoted a class discussion and almost every student had the same final thought when I collected sticky notes—because the Indigenous were here before the French and there is so much intertwined history with both cultures—why is it we are only seeing the one side in schools? Why is it we are only offered Core French at a majority of schools?
This led me to applying for my Master’s of Education, to a course-route program initially. But after the first few classes, I realized that what brought me back to school and learning was my students’ questions which couldn’t be answered unless I confronted the issue full on by writing a thesis on it.
Why did you choose the U of R to do your Master’s degree?
Mainly it was about being able to teach and learn at the same time. I didn’t want to take a leave to go to another university as I felt that I would learn more by teaching at the same time of my learning—really my unlearning, too.
I also wanted to take classes at the U of R because I knew many professors who would be able to help me on this journey. The University’s dedication to reconciliation was important to me.
What was your rationale for framing your research with Senator Sinclair’s (2016) four questions: Where do I come from; where am I going; why am I here; and who am I?
I was fortunate to hear Senator Sinclair speak at the Woodrow Lecture. When I heard him ask these questions, my mind immediately returned to my classroom with my students who were really asking me those exact questions. And I realized, that as their teacher, I didn’t even have the answers to those questions. I had to be able to answer them first if I was ever going to be an educator that helped guide students to their own answers. By framing my research with those questions, I was forcing myself to answer the questions from my students.
What was your initial research question? Did your question change as you researched?
Without recognizing it, my initial research question began in my first course with Dr. Lace Brogden. One of the articles I was assigned to present on was by Dr. Cynthia Chambers. Her theories on land-based learning and culturally appropriate curricula began to inspire me to want to learn more about the land I lived on. My second course, Indigenous Methodologies taught by Dr. JoLee Sasakamoose, was the first of many unlearnings. I encountered many moments of discomfort as I learned new perspectives that were never a part of my previous education. I formed several supportive relationships in this course that I still am blessed to have in my life now. I also took a directed reading course with Dr. Heather Phipps focused on Life Writing and Literary Métissage as an Ethos for Our Times by Dr. Cynthia Chambers, Dr. Erika Hasebe-Ludt, and the late Dr. Carl Leggo. The course and text guided me to my research question. I knew I wanted to find out if or how French and Indigenous languages and culture could both be taught through a Core French program without forgetting my role as a French educator, but also not forgetting that I’m an educator on Treaty 4 lands.
My final research questions that changed and focused over time in my thesis were: Does Saskatchewan’s Core French curricula advocate for Core French programs to integrate Indigenous knowledges, culture, and languages that meets the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action in Education of culturally appropriate curricula? How can the Saskatchewan Core French curricula make space for both French and Indigenous culture and languages, along with multiple other cultures, in our diverse province?
What were your findings?
Levels 1-7 Core French curricula is not culturally appropriate and has many stereotypes and content that was not integrated with feedback from Indigenous peoples. I think what surprised me the most was that my focus was to determine if the Indigenous content in the cultural indicators were appropriate, but what was also revealed in the focus groups was that the French culture, the culture the curriculum was created for, also had many stereotypes and misconceptions of French culture.
Participants strongly recommended that the curriculum should be rewritten but this time, with educators of Core French, members of the French community, and the Indigenous community invited to the process.
For part of the focus group discussion, it was debated whether or not Indigenous culture even belonged in the Core French curriculum. In the end, all participants, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous strongly agreed that it did as a part of where we live but that the following four foci should be implemented into the curriculum making AND the curriculum teaching process:
Building relationships. If you are not Indigenous, you need to talk to someone who is an Elder or knowledge keeper. You need to ask permission before teaching Indigenous content so you are guided how to do it, and sometimes you may be told you cannot teach it as you are not qualifeid to share that knowledge. Some knowledges have be taught from the Elders and knowledge keepers.
Teach from your place. The Core French curriculum tried to throw in content from across Canada and the world. Focus on your place whether that be Regina, Treaty 4 or perhaps in Saskatoon on Treaty 6. Teach what is relevant to the students in the environment they live and learn from.
Spiritual content—be very careful of this. It may not be appropriate to teach this from within the classroom as it should be experienced in a real setting.
We have to find the third space—in Core French, that space is to teach French culture and language but it must allow for other cultures of my place to not be overshadowed. But as a Core French educator, I also can’t forget that my role is to teach French, too. This space needs to allow for learning from others and asking for help when needed, to not assume I am teaching the right thing when it comes to Indigenous cultural indicators, but also to not skip teaching them as I’m afraid to do so.
Describe an “aha” moment for you as you researched your topic?
While the focus groups and myself all had various backgrounds—we really had one common goal—our children. It didn’t matter if anyone disagreed or didn’t see one aspect the same as someone else did. The participants listened to each other, created a safe place for discussion, often changed their perspectives upon hearing another, brought themselves to many uncomfortable conversations, and learned from each other—and came to a common understanding. It wasn’t easy but seeing my participants in this process really showed me that curriculum could be done in a similar way. And that there are people willing to give their time for it, yet often the invitation to the process is not extended. I realized for myself that while I cannot change the curriculum, I can change how I approach it and how I teach it. As one participant said—the curriculum is mainly just a guide.
How has your research changed how you approach teaching and learning?
I see the curriculum completely different. Before I saw it as almost the “bible” that had all the right answers. This has changed. I refer to it for ideas on what to teach but then I seek out the sources I need to teach that content and ask them “What should I or shouldn’t I teach with this?” I feel my connection to where I’m from has deepened, and I put relationships first in my classroom and with my colleagues. Students are excited and eager to learn when I come to their class and it isn’t because it’s French. It’s because I’ve taken the time to understand why I’m teaching Core French and I try to make the program relevant to my students, too.
My passion for this knowledge led me to wanting to build more of a community for Core French educators as well. Often we are the only one in a school building with multiple classrooms. I became lead facilitator for the Community of Practice for Core French educators in Regina Public Schools four years ago, and in the past couple years, I’ve helped bring together a province-wide group of Core French educators where there are optional virtual meetings and Professional Development. It isn’t an official role or even a paid one, but it is a necessary role that my research led me to. The Ministry of Education isn’t going to spend the money to update the curriculum in the near future, but by building relationships with those who teach Core French in my place, whether that be just Regina or the whole province, we can work together to change how we teach the curriculum using the knowledge I’ve gained from the research process and from what the participants have helped me to unlearn and learn.
This is just the beginning as well—I just recently finished my research and I have so much more to learn.
Le Bac #UREdu student Wahbi Zarry and Tony Quiñones have created a 1/2 hour film, 10 Days of Cree, which follows Zarry’s 10-day journey engaging with the larger community while working to learn the Cree language. This is the first of a planned educational webseries exploring Zarry’s experiences with Canadian indigenous languages
Interim President and Vice Chancellor Dr. Thomas Chase writes, “10 Days of Cree is a fine example of the quality work our students produce, and just as importantly, a fine example of reconciliation in action that should inspire and serve as an example for us all – particularly as we work to bring to life our new Strategic Plan, kahkiyaw kiwâhkômâkaninawak.”
Episode 2 on the Nakota language will be released in November. For updates follow Zarry’s Facebook site, Canadian Languages.
Canadian Languages is a webseries exploring indigenous languages of Canada through educational documentaries.
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.”
“I know in the long run it isn’t much at all, but in my way, in my journey to reconciliation, I can do this one thing.”
Aysha Yaqoob is no stranger to feelings of discomfort and dislocation. Born in Saudi Arabia and immigrating to Canada at the age of 2 with her parents, who were originally from Pakistan, Yaqoob’s early years were spent moving from place to place in the Greater Toronto Area. Then, in 2008, her family moved to Saskatoon, where Aysha attended school from Grade 7 to 12.
Attending 15 different schools during her K-12 years gave Aysha keen insight into feelings of marginality, which were amplified by being a visibly Muslim student. The lack of representation she saw in professional roles combined with her feelings of marginality sparked a desire in Aysha to work with marginal and at-risk youth, and influenced her decision to become an English teacher.
“In high school I had a great group of English teachers, and they hung out in a nice pack. It was there where I saw how dedicated they were and how fun teaching could be, and I observed their interest in teaching us not only about Shakespeare and poetry, but also about real world problems. However, there were no teachers that looked like me; all the teachers were White, and I wondered, ‘If I feel this, other students must feel this as well.’”
University gave Aysha a sense of control over her learning: “I had full autonomy of where I wanted to push my learning. I remember sitting in Mike Cappello’s ECS class, and seeing a White male talking so strongly about White privilege and what it means to oppress students of colour, and me being one of the very few students in our program who were of colour, and Muslim, visibly Muslim; it felt weird to see someone saying the words I could relate to.” Aysha wanted to learn more about representation: “After that, in every single class I took, I wanted to explore more into representation, and representing marginal and Indigenous students. All my profs were so willing to let me do assignments, I never had a prof who said you have to stick with my assignment. It was so great, I got to push my education and learning in areas that I was interested in. I was really able to shape my journey the way I wanted.”
These experiences changed how Aysha viewed education. She says, “It made me see that there are teachers who are trying to change the system right now, and trying to make students of colour feel represented and welcome. It was so nice.”
Up to that point, Aysha says she had been quiet and shy, but feeling supported at University helped her find and use her voice. “I remember that during the time when the Muslim ban was going on, I got up in front of my peers and let them know how I felt, how cornered and unsupported I felt. I invited them to a vigil at Victoria Park…Even talking about this gives me goose bumps. Just seeing all of the support I had from my peers and colleagues and professors made me want to speak up about these issues all the more. Since then I’ve been a non-stop machine; I don’t have an off button,” she says.
In 2017, as part of the Education Students’ Society executive, Aysha organized a Professional Development event called Meet-a-Muslim. She says, “I wanted to dispel misinformation about Muslims, so I invited everyone to come out and hear what it was like growing up Muslim, and about how the travel ban was affecting us. I wanted it to be an open safe space to ask questions and dialogue.” For people who are often misportrayed, Aysha explains “My go-to is to just ask questions. I’d rather you ask a billion questions than just assume.” In her quest for how to go about designing the event, Drs. Jennifer Tupper and Mike Cappello advised her to have an open dialogue with a panel. In hindsight, Aysha is glad about the panel format: “It was great that it was that way because a lot of topics came up that I wouldn’t have touched on because for me they were everyday things, even questions about why I wear the hijab and why my sister doesn’t, basic questions about Islam, and my view point on conflicts around the world. I’m not a token representative of all Muslims, so the panel gave a variety of viewpoints,” she says. The event was well-attended, one of the busiest ESS events that year, with 50-60 people attending. CBC covered the event and it was also live-streamed on Facebook.
“My parents look at me now, and they are surprised too, saying ‘You were never like this; you were so quiet and felt uncomfortable with public speaking.’ Now every chance I get, I’m out there.” Aysha credits her transformation as growing out of her experience of feeling supported by her peers and professors: It was “having that moment where I felt enough support to be vulnerable and express how I felt, and sharing that ‘your silence is hurting me,’ and getting their response in return,” she says.
Still quiet in some ways, Aysha likes to achieve extraordinary things while maintaining a low profile. Though she only walked the Faculty of Education’s halls for four years, Aysha managed to earn both a B.Ed. (English Language Arts and Social Studies) and a B. A. in English. Students typically take five years to finish a combined degree program, but Aysha, taking between six and eight classes per term, finished in four years. Aysha laughs, saying, “Nicole Glas, [Student Services Coordinator] asked her ‘Are you sure?’ I said ‘absolutely,’ but I got to the point where I wasn’t sure…I even had a course during internship!”
Pencils of Hope
As if squeezing a 5-year program into four years wasn’t enough, along with serving in the Education Students’ Society for two years (one as VP of Communications), and organizing Meet-a-Muslim night, Aysha maintained her own photography business, and founded a charitable organization called Pencils of Hope.
It was during her second term of University that a plan to support marginalized youth formed in her mind: “The principal from Chief Kahkewistahaw Community School, came in to our class to talk about schooling and education and how it is important for U of R grads to go out on reserves and experience teaching there. I chatted with him later about funding, and learned that federal funding on reserves, and schools on reserves, is significantly less than funding for schools off reserves. I had thought all schools were the same! I remember going home to my parents and talking about it: ‘I want to do something; already there’s such a drastic change between conditions on and off reserves. And all the discrimination that goes on…it doesn’t seem right that in education, especially,—we say Canada has such great education and equal access to education but it doesn’t seem like it.’ So, my parents asked me what I wanted to do. I said ‘I don’t know, but I want to do something.’ Over breakfast, we talked about names, and I thought ‘Pencils of Hope’ was a good name and my dad said, ‘What do you want to do with that?’ I talked to the principal again, and I said, ‘Why don’t I try this? I’m a photographer by hobby. I’ll donate everything I make through photography to this cause. If I can get enough funds, will you accept my gift of supplies to this school?’ I tried it out my first year and it worked out really well.”
Since then the organization has “snowballed,” says Aysha. Sponsors started making small donations. A committee was formed. For the first three years, Pencils of Hope partnered with one school each year. But this year, the committee decided to partner with four schools. “Four schools was a huge difference. We received a grant from Taking it Global, which offered a rising youth grant.”
Donations and, therefore, spending has increased substantially over the four years of existence. The first year the group spent $750 on supplies and this year they spent over $4000, with carry over for next year. Pencils of Hope has made some changes to their vision as well: “This year we’ve changed our vision to match the Calls to Action. So from here on out we made a vow to partner with at least one school on a reserve.” The group is also making supplies available to individual students who may not be in a school that is in partnership with Pencils of Hope.
For Aysha, this work has been part of her journey toward reconciliation. “I know in the long run it isn’t much at all, but in my way, in my journey to reconciliation, I can do this one thing.”
Doing this project in a good way, a humble way, has been one of Aysha’s goals: “When we talk about Pencils of Hope, I don’t like to be called the founder. It is still a journey, still a process; I’m still learning, of course. Meeting with different elders and profs and being able to exchange knowledge, learn indigenous ways of knowing and culture, and how to go about this in a more humble way, it’s been very uncomfortable, but it’s been a great kind of uncomfortable…It’s not learning if it’s not uncomfortable.”
Aysha has learned many things along her journey, but one thing stands out in her mind, “It’s hard doing it alone, not fun to do it alone.” She advises others who would like to do something similar to, “Get many people involved and see what they will do.”
Now a first-year teacher at Balfour Collegiate, Aysha plans to carry on with the work of Pencils of Hope, with the support of her committee, family and community. “I anticipate it is going to be busy, but to me that is a good thing, to me that means more schools and more partnerships, and more relationships—expanding.”
By Shuana Niessen
Sean Hooper, a 3rd-year Elementary Education student, was recipient of the 2017 Saskatchewan Triathlon Coach of the Year Award.
Sean Hooper, born and raised in Regina, has been coaching for six years with Regina Multisport Club’s Fundamentals, a program that he and his father started in 2012. “We noticed that a lot of kids, as young as 3 or 4, had never done anything like [triathlon races] and they were turned off by the experience, or really anxious and crying,” Sean explains, “We wanted FUNdamentals to be something that would prepare kids for an event like the Icebreaker, now called the Brent Gibson Memorial Icebreaker.” And, they wanted kids to have fun at the same time.
Sean and his father also hoped to change the way sport programs for children are offered: “At this age, the whole concept of the program that we would like to support is the long-term athlete development model.” Sean believes this model is why Canada has such a strong athletic community despite our population size. “We do so many sports as kids, and we have that physical literacy that we can apply to whatever we are passionate about later on.”
Triathlon itself incorporates cycling, swimming, and running. But Sean encourages the athletes to try other sports. “We only have practices twice a week. We are trying to move kids and parents to do multisports, such as hockey, basketball, and soccer….We have parents say, ‘my kid is really good at running,’ and they think that their child should focus on running. I say, ‘let them test the water; let them make the decision.’ That is where athletes come from; they have internal motivation,” Sean says.
Coaching is what led Sean into the field of education, though he didn’t start there. “I’ve been going to University for a while. I started in the Arts, went to Kinesiology, then I took some science. After third year, I sat down to figure out what I wanted to do. What is the career I want to go to every day? Education was what I decided on. I was in Kinesiology initially because I really enjoy coaching and fitness, but I thought more about the rudimentary aspect of coaching. It was about being able to see people grow based on my teachings, and about the relationship…that was really important to me and motivated me in my coaching,” says Sean.
Sean finds coaching influences his teaching philosophy. As with sports and needing to have a good experience, Sean says, “people learn best when the subject matter is associated with emotion. The lessons I remember best from school are when I did an activity or had some kind of experience from it.” For his 3-week pre-internship experience, Sean says, for “each of my lessons, I’ve tried to add an activity or something interesting so that students can take the information and apply it or gain some kind of experience from it.” Like sport literacy developed through multiple experiences, Sean views learning styles as something you develop in children: “The brain is malleable, and it is my job as a teacher to open avenues to different methods of thinking. I don’t think kids should be taught in one way, because they have potential to learn in many ways. Making those variations is what’s important instead of putting kids on a track where they are comfortable.”
As a competitive triathlete since the age of 13, Sean draws on former experiences with coaches to inform both his coaching and teaching practices. “Good coaches are humble and work in tandem with their athletes: they’re not too controlling and they communicate. I think an educator has to be the same. If you are too controlling in your classroom, then you are going to have students who resent you, or feel pressured, almost like they’re not the ones who want to do the learning. A good coach inspires the athlete to want to do better, and that comes from building relationships. When you establish a relationship, students are more likely to want to learn what you need to teach them.”
As with any relationship, respect is important. Sean says, “Respect is an abstract term; even saying it is kind of weird. It’s all about the subtleties in your actions, how you talk to people and how you respond to them and their questions and the way they perform.”
One of Sean’s favourite sayings comes from one of his former coaches, Steve Davis, “Do no harm.” As an athlete, Sean knows that you can be hard enough on yourself, and it is not necessary for a coach to get upset because you are doing that anyways.
Another life lesson Sean has drawn from his experience as an athlete is something another coach taught him, “Don’t focus on your pain; focus on your technique. Focus on something that is going to make you faster instead of the pain. When applied to life this means, if you are going through hard times, why focus on the negative things? That will just slow you down. Do something that helps you overcome the pain. That’s what I try to tell kids. Pain is going to happen. Never stop running. Never give up.”
In the past six years, Sean has coached more than 300 athletes. One of the athletes from his program made this comment, “Sean is a great coach. He makes our training fun by adding games and challenging us to go faster. He keeps us focused. I am much stronger and faster now and that is awesome.”(Quote from Regina Multisport Instagram account.) Sean received his award in March, 2018