What started as a cool year-end writing assignment for Grade 9 English students at John Arnalukjuak High School in Arviat may eventually become an even cooler published work of original myths entitled, How Did the Ptarmigan Learn to Fly?
“These myths tell about the youth of today and their understanding of the values and traditions that are a part of their Inuit culture. Interwoven throughout their writing is their inherited knowledge, respect and wisdom of daily life in a stark and beautiful environment,” said their teacher Victoria Plaskett. “It has been my privilege and honour to read their writing and edit their words and stories.”
The students' path to publishing started when they were given the assignment to create their own original myths after they spent months writing daily journals and reading all sorts of essays, articles, short stories and novels.
Plaskett – who holds a doctorate in education/resiliency – said the students were then asked to participate in a Reading Buddies initiative to read their myth to one other person.
She said the students went to Qitiqliq Middle School to visit the Grade 8 classroom of Maggie Manik to read their stories on May 24, after she had compiled the stories into an illustrated book.
“There was a hush in Maggie’s classroom when students received the first copies of their stories,” said Plaskett. “Then they started showing their stories to each other. There was this quiet buzz of excitement as everyone read together. It was absolutely magical.”
High school principal Romeo Fournier and Plaskett set goals of getting students to read and write this past February to prepare the students to write their myths.
Plaskett said each student received a writing portfolio and a daily writing journal, with lessons on grammar, spelling and punctuation coming later.
She said the students read daily, being introduced to Orca Soundings books – short contemporary fiction written by established authors for reluctant readers – before moving onto the teen classic, The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton, and then William Shakespeare.
“First we talked about Shakespeare’s life and times. It is full of fun facts, especially when you remember he was writing more than 400 years ago in Elizabethan England. Then I gave them a choice between Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet and, of course, the hands went up for the classic romantic tragedy,” she said. “Students read a graphic version, chunked to go along with the movie, because Shakespeare’s plays are meant to be seen.”
Plaskett said the students read, Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl with and Freedom Writers as both works have the common theme of self-awareness and resiliency through journal writing.
She said they wrote in their journals for 10 minutes each day.
“They wrote about the land they love, the families they love and close friendship ties. They wrote about how a new little brother brought fresh joy into their lives, the Saturday night dances, hockey games, working on weekends, and walking around town with friends,” she said. “They wrote about being home all day in a blizzard, about riding their Ski-Doo on blue sky afternoons, about flying to Winnipeg to stay in a hotel, and dreams of one day going to Paris, France, and finishing their education 'no matter what.' They wrote about hunting on the land for caribou and Arctic fox, the spring fishing derby and the breakup of sea ice on the Hudson Bay in August.”
“When it came time to write their myths, they were ready,” she said.
A myth is a traditional story about superhuman beings, such as gods, goddesses, heroes or monsters, usually explaining the origin of natural events and forces, and cultural practices. Some myths teach values, such as humility or patience.
The next step for the book of myths, How Did the Ptarmigan Learn to Fly? is to have the stories translated into Inuktitut with a goal toward future publication.
Plaskett said many students chose to read their myths to their former Grade 8 teacher, Maggie Manik, during the Reading Buddies morning at Qitiqliq Middle School.
She said it was especially meaningful for Manik, and she congratulated the students on writing wonderful stories.
In honour of their hard work, student Donald Baker-Spence received a Toronto Raptors T-shirt for being the first to have his story, Why is the Sky Blue in Day Time? read aloud to the group, while Donald Suluk received a Canadian Hockey Legends stamp collection for being second with his story, The Guy with 3 Bullets and Ijiraq, said Plaskett.