Grade 12 students at John Arnalukjuak High School (JAHS) took part in the school's most ambitious grad retreat to date this past week in Arviat.
This year's retreat saw the students gather at the school at midnight on May 31 to engage in a number of activities before being loaded onto a bus, driven about 13 kilometres out on the land and then made to walk all the way back.
Each of the 13 kilometres represented one year the students spent in school on their way to graduation, explained JAHS Principal Romeo Fournier.
“I was very clear in saying to the students – in giving them the reality of this journey – they are going to be very excited at first, they're going to get tired along the way, they're going to want to quit, they're going to want to give up, they're going to be cold, and they may have to rely on help from some of their peers or an elder that's with them – but, in the end, they're going to cross that finish line and make it to their goal,” he said. “The goal was also to represent life and to articulate to them that this is exactly what life is going to be like when they finish high school.
“With each step you take you are a step closer to obtaining your goals, but, along the way you will trip and you will fall, but falling is not nearly as important as getting-up is,” he continued. “We wanted to give them a chance to reflect on their journey from kindergarten to Grade 12 a bit, and to celebrate the challenges along the way.”
JAHS started off the school year with 36 potential graduates but thanks to the positive effects of the ESTEEM program, program, which stands for empowering students through elders, education and mentorship, among others put in place this year, that number has risen to 40, said Fournier.
He said although the increase may not be that large of a number, staff takes pride in knowing they were able to provide those four students with the supports they needed to be successful and accomplish some of their goals and, in doing so, they now have the opportunity to graduate with their peers.
Before the students left the school for their trek, they heard from a special guest speaker from Australia's education department named Phil Breslin via video. The effort was part of the school's mission statement is to support their student's growth into becoming contributing global citizens, said Fournier.
He said the students always need to be aware that there are more people and cultures out in the world.
“Mr. Breslin was kind enough to put together a video with some of his students down in Australia, in which they shared some of the culture from their aboriginal heritage,” said Fournier. “It was a fantastic video about another culture that had a little bit about the walkabout and their right of passage or coming of age.”