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Educating students in both worlds

Sakku School in Coral Harbour puts focus on culture
Students and instructors work with a fox on the land in Coral Harbour. Photo courtesy of Simone De Gannes

For the principal at Sakku School in Coral Harbour, teaching culture is vital – and personal.

“I know what it is to lose a culture,” said Simone De Gannes, who has been principal at Sakku School for just over one year and is originally from the Caribbean.

“I know what it is to lose a language. I know very well once that is lost, no matter what you do, you cannot get it back. That is why one of my key objectives as principal is to conserve the culture, the tradition, the language, the way of life, and blend it into the school curriculum in everything we do.”

That goes right from classroom activities to on-the-land trips to staff meetings. Any meal served in the school must include local food, said De Gannes, both as a means to preserve the Inuit culture and also to help educational staff from the south assimilate into the Northern culture themselves.

In the classroom, students are educated in “both worlds,” meaning the academic side and the cultural and traditional side.

Elders play a major role in the school, where they show students how to skin, dress and clean animals that are caught in the community, as well as teach the language and involve students in Inuit games.

For almost every subject, students are taught in both languages. If a teacher cannot speak Inuktitut, the school brings in someone who can to repeat the instructions the teacher says.

“We’re keeping the language vibrant and alive,” said De Gannes.

And the proof of this approach is in the pudding already. Sakku School is seeing higher attendance and fewer disciplinary issues since involving the culture more. De Gannes said the students are showing more compassion, respect and interest in school. She said attendance rates are upward of 90 per cent.

“Teachers are tired, and we’ll say, ‘Oh, my goodness, (the students) come every day,’” joked De Gannes.

She’s also seen an increase in reading levels. Her goal as principal is to develop the holistic individual.

“It’s the spiritual, the intellectual, the emotional, the creative and the social aspects of each child,” said De Gannes.

Going forward, De Gannes is looking to bolster the school’s on-the-land programming, aiming to have students on the land every month to engage in cultural activities.

Natuk Paniyuk cleans a seal skin while others look on, as part of culturally relevant classwork at Sakku School in Coral Harbour. Photo courtesy of Simone De Gannes
Jonathan Emiktowt holds the fur after taking it off a fox for students at Sakku School. Photo courtesy of Simone De Gannes
Jonathan Emiktowt teaches students how to skin a fox. Photo courtesy of Simone De Gannes
Susie Angootealuk keeps students engaged in learning their culture. Photo courtesy of Simone De Gannes