Photo by Adam Cooke Inverness municipal councillor Jim Mustard and Health Promoter Christine Villneff, coordinators of the “Raising the Villages” initiative launched by three local municipalities, two First Nations communities and the provincial Department of Health and Wellness earlier this year, updated their efforts at last week’s regular meeting of the Strait regional school board in Port Hawkesbury.

PORT HAWKESBURY: Organizers of a wide-ranging initiative to develop toddler-friendly spaces throughout Inverness and Victoria Counties and the Town of Port Hawkesbury are enlisting the Strait regional school board (SRSB) to help local children get off on the right foot before they enter the public school system.

Inverness municipal councillor Jim Mustard and Health Promoter Christine Villneff attended the board’s latest regular meeting at Port Hawkesbury’s SAERC Auditorium, seeking the board’s support for Mawiomi w’jit Mijuwajijk or “Raising the Villages.”

Launched in April by Inverness and Victoria counties, the Town of Port Hawkesbury, Waycobah and Wagmatcook First Nations and the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness (DHW), the project is now collecting data to launch a series of spaces that will enable children to experience regular contact with others in their communities prior to entering the public school system.

To that end, Mustard and Villneff have requested the SRSB’s basic support for the program but also their assistance in compiling data and evidence regarding the children and families in the board’s coverage area. Mustard noted that he and Villneff will make a similar pitch to the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board (CBVRSB) during their next public meeting in early September.

“I feel it’s the right time to move forward with this,” said Mustard, who added that the various cultural groups making up the SRSB’s coverage area can all benefit from the “Raising the Villages” program.

“If we want to retain Gaelic or Mi’kmaq or Acadian languages, we can create better environments to create the language acquisition through those experiences.”

At two points during his presentation, Mustard lauded the SRSB’s participation in the provincial government’s forthcoming Pre-Primary program, and board superintendent Ford Rice returned the compliment by noting that he and other board officials entered into discussions on the “Raising the Village” project as early as 2013.

“From my perspective, it’s good to see how it’s progressing, and our Pre-Primary now is really going to [help] that process,” Rice predicted.

“We do have a lot of data…So we’ll connect at another time to sort of ease that apart and see where we can be beneficial to your needs.”

Villneff added that any information the SRSB can provide will go a long way towards solidifying the host communities and final structure of “Raising the Villages.”

“We are trying to find out what people love about their community, what the gaps are, what people see a need for, what access the community has, what spaces could be open, what’s needed and what’s not needed,” she explained.

The project’s spokespersons also asked the SRSB to consider sending a representative to Wagmatcook First Nation on November 20 for a regional conference to discuss “Raising the Villages,” and announced that the project’s organizers will also hold an event in Iona on October 21 to welcome new babies into the community.

“Every municipal councillor [in the project’s partner municipalities] can do a welcoming celebration for all of the babies in their constituency…so they will feel open and belonging,” Villneff enthused.