Paqtnkek Education Centre providing students with a culturally relevant education

    PAQTNKEK MI’KMAW NATION: The principal for Paqtnkek Education Centre says the new on-reserve school is giving students an ancestral voice that was stolen in Residential Schools and Indian Day Schools.

    Earlier this year, the new P-3 school opened its doors to the inaugural class of 19 students, which hosted classes in the community’s elder centre until the construction on their school was completed.

    After a grand opening on Oct. 15, first day of classes at the new $1.2 million, four classroom Paqtnkek Education Centre was on Oct. 18.

    Danielle Gloade, who is from Millbrook First Nation and is the school’s first principal, received her Masters of Education from StFX University and told The Reporter education was always a hard thing for her family.

    “Not many people graduated. It was also hard for me because I had learning apprehensions growing up, and wasn’t really able to understand why I wasn’t able to get the English language as good as other people,” said Gloade, who graduated in December 2020. “But as I grew up, I came to understand even if you are not a fluent Mi’kmaq speaker, as a Mi’kmaq speaker, that still is your very first language.”

    She indicated it wasn’t until she completed her first practicum on-reserve at Sipekne’katik First Nation, which was the community her grandmother Nora Bernard was from, that she found a passion for it.

    “It’s where my love of teaching really started. I remember I had a little student in Grade 3, and he and I just really connected,” Gloade said. “And I was like ‘Wow, this is what it’s about,’ and that’s what kind of inspired me to want to be an educator, it was being able to reach a child that was almost unreachable.”

    Personally, she feels as though society categorizes people, and it makes it hard for people of colour to be able to fit the norm that’s set out, and the school is not trying to fit the norm.

    “We’re not trying to fit our kids into any kind of box, we’re trying to help them to be proud of their identify,” Gloade said. “But also supporting the Nova Scotia curriculum in the classroom, and making sure they feel loved, valued and understood.”

    The principal said she feels honoured to be a part of the school at a grassroots level from the ground up, noting the school is such a special place to be.

    “At the end of the day, when the kids are leaving, all the kids in P-1, they always stop and they hug every single one of us teachers as they wait to get on the bus,” Gloade said. “It’s such a beautiful moment, and I always remind them in the morning how much I love them, and if nobody told them that they are loved, that I love them.”

    She suggested it’s nice to see so many things happening in their school that extends to the community.

    “In place of the things like the backpack program, we partnered with Nourish Canada, and we do Cooking with my Family, so it’s a pilot project and a kit goes home and it helps us create sustainability, to help support the family,” Gloade said. “In some schools, they do the backpack program, which is awesome, but it can also put a lot of ownership on the children, which can cause bullying and effect one’s self esteem.”

    The school has two Mi’kmaq teachers for their P-1 and 2-3 split classes, and twice a week, students receive 50 minutes of emersion Mi’kmaq language, and the results are paying off.

    “For instance, for breakfast, we offer them samqwan, which is water, or mlakejk, which is milk, so at the very beginning of the year when we were teaching this to the students, we would be like ‘Would you like some milk?’” Gloade said. “And they would be like ‘No, it’s mlakejk, Mrs. Gloade’ so they’re catching on to that, and now it’s very natural for them to say it.”

    Speaking on the significance of providing their students with a culturally relevant education in their own community, something they wouldn’t necessarily get in the provincial stream, the principal said it’s extremely important.

    “A lot of our kids fall through the cracks when they get older, and we don’t want that to happen, we want to help support our kids to be strong, Indigenous leaders in their own right,” Gloade said. “And to be proud of who they are, know where they came from, and to be able to have those components they have to have the teachings and the learnings, and be in a place where they can flourish and grow as Indigenous Peoples.”

    She indicated that’s what is special about their school and what they offer in comparison to schools off-reserve.

    Tanya Francis, Paqtnkek’s education director, advised being able to have a school in their community has been something the community has been looking at for a little over 20 years.

    “We were the first community really to have a community vote, and I felt that it was rushed at that time,” Francis said. “The community voted no and after that, people started to realized that maybe we do need a school.”

    After hearing the feedback from the community, she indicated the female band councillors went to the board of Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey and asked for funding, in which they received an initial $600,000.

    Following the creation of a capital plan, construction hit a halt when the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe.

    “We realized $600,000 was nothing when you look at labour and materials,” Francis said. “Me and my brother, who is the interim chief right now, had to go in front of the board and explain why we needed a school here, and were granted $400,000 more.”

    With the $1 million secured from Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey, the band contributed the remaining $200,000.

    “Construction started in May,” Francis said. “With material delays we weren’t able to open until Oct. 15, where we were supposed to open in September.”

    With the school’s construction not 100 per cent complete by the time the school year rolled around, they were able to open on the day they said they would, with a soft opening at the elder’s centre, something both were appreciative of the elders for the use of the space.

    “The teachers were incredible,” Gloade said. “They made it a school for the kids; it was awesome to see how everybody came together.”

    Despite only being few weeks into their very first school year, the principal indicated it’s been amazing as there’s a lot of learning taking place between both students and teachers.

    “That responsibility is not just on the teachers, because our kids are also knowledge keepers,” Gloade said. “And they might be more fluent in the language than the teacher, so they can kind of share back and forth.”

    Francis said on an even more positive note, their students are starting to smile now, are talking more and are becoming more verbal as they gain more confidence in themselves.

    “That just makes me proud right there, because they’re going to be able to talk for themselves when they get older,” she said. “Because our youths now they’re shut down, they can’t voice their own opinions, they don’t think it’s important enough. When in reality it is.”

    Francis said it makes her heart happy watching the students learn and hearing the students speak their language, as she didn’t want to learn the language growing up.

    “Even though my parents were fluent speakers, my dad was a Residential School survivor, my mom went to Indian Day school, so they only talked amongst each other,” she said. “And I didn’t want to learn the language because, where we lived in a white neighbourhood, who was I going to speak to besides my parents.”

    After generations of hard work, Francis said the opportunity is finally here to be able to present this opportunity to their kids.

    For Gloade, she said it feels like it’s about time.

    “It’s incredible that our kids are taking hold of it and taking ownership of it,” she said. “It’s our job and responsibility to give them opportunities to be celebrated and celebrate their culture.”

    Both agree, having a school in their community and having their students taught by Mi’kmaq teachers is the best medicine for healing and to move forward being proud and be successful.