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Coral Harbour principal awarded for dedication to students’ potential

“This award is not mine” says Simone De Gannes, crediting staff and students
Natuk Paniyuk skins a seal while others look on during class activities last school year. File photo courtesy of Simone De Gannes

Simone De Gannes, principal of Sakku School in Coral Harbour, said she administers from the heart and sees children as if they are hers.

“So if they are mine, I want the best that can be offered,” said De Gannes. “This is done by having the students’ comprehensive, holistic, cultural and traditional education at the helm of all initiatives. This approach also encompasses the community’s well-being and interest as an additional priority.”

Weaved into that is ensuring teachers are equipped with the know-how and resources to help students with impairments – whether visual, physical or otherwise – achieve their goals as well.

“For example, the staff learn to read braille, sign language and use technology to reach and teach the students,” said De Gannes, who preaches an approach of listening to what is said, observing what is possible and speaking less.

“I call it two by two by one – two ears, two eyes one mouth.”

She was shocked to learn at the end of last school year that she would be receiving the Rick Hansen Foundation School Program Difference Maker of the Year award, which recognized her for her inclusive programming and removing barriers for education.

De Gannes started at Sakku School in November 2020. Her philosophy is to take each child to his or her full potential.

“This means progressive education, which is socially engaging learning experiences that are developmentally appropriate for students,” said De Gannes, adding that classroom activities are based on real-life situations.

That means when bears, seals, foxes or other animals are caught, the skinning process is done in the school with students; Elders are brought in to pass on their knowledge through storytelling; on-the-land learning is a priority and happens regularly; Inuit art, beading and cultural skills are actively taught; and outsiders “like myself,” said De Gannes, learn words and phrases to communicate with students in their native language.

De Gannes hails from the Caribbean herself, where she says education is very competitive and a passport to a more uplifting and fulfilling life. Part of her philosophy for education comes from her grandma’s advice: “You do good, and good will follow you; you do bad, it’s the same thing.”

This school year, Sakku School will be continuing to build and develop students’ numeracy and literacy while focusing on cultural and traditional activities.

Though De Gannes was recognized for her work in Coral Harbour, she’s not taking all the credit.

“This award is not mine,” she said. “It belongs to the teachers who support me no matter how hard I may push from time to time, their commitment towards the initiatives and knowing the administration has everyone’s interests at heart. The award belongs to the parents and community who trusted me to ensure their children are receiving quality education and, finally, the students who are always here in the building no matter the weather.”

Susie Angootealuk keeps students engaged in learning their culture in this photo from the past school year. File photo courtesy of Simone De Gannes