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Nanook School in Apex takes education to the land

Land-based education has been a dream at Nanook School for years, and this past September that dream became reality.

The Nuna School Program sees children using the land as their classroom.

Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo
Viivi Morrison Mike and Niviaq Mike engage in creative play-based art by using a rough surface to shape and smooth their ice carvings in Nanook School's new Nuna School Program.

"I see it as a culmination of people's ideas and efforts over the years. It's certainly something that's come from the community, the parents, the teachers, us as an Apex community – people really wanted to see this type of programming happening," said principal Matt Knickelbein.

"Maggie's been talking about this for years, and when we got somebody with Bre's background and qualifications on board, everybody really rallied."

Maggie Kuniliusie and Breanne (Bre) Card are a match made in Apex heaven.

Kuniliusie, a teacher at Nanook School for 23 years, has been taking students out on the land throughout the years.

"On snowshoes, tidal and tundra hikes," she says.

Card, meanwhile, was that kid in school who secretly brought snails in from the outdoors and hatched them in her desk. She moved to Nunavut and started teaching at Nanook in October 2017.

"I shared my background in the concept of outdoor school. As an outdoor education specialist and teacher, it was my hope to take our students outside for land-based learning opportunities," she said.

"Maggie shared her love and experience for taking students out on the land. Right away we teamed up and took our students outside for land-based learning as often as we could."

That meant years of conversation, and years of planning, was put into action, said Knickelbein.

Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo
Emily Mitsima and Avery Redfern work together to collect and carefully transport important items to their avinngaq shelter.

Presentations were made to the Apex District Education Authority, which was entirely supportive. The pitch to the Department of Education was successful.

The benefits of outdoor education are proven, said Knickelbein, and Kuniliusie and Card are seeing it in their students.

Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo
Christopher Doucet, Jonah Aola and Sivu Pudluk take turns on the slide they just made using the side of the rock and plywood – as an example of problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork and creative play.

"The benefits of a land-based program are endless and even in the two-and-a-half months Nuna School has been up and running, we have noticed our students are sick less often, balance and stamina have improved, teamwork and communication are excellent, problem solving and critical thinking are more advanced, and we see that time and space on the land does help with self-regulation and sense of self,"  said Kuniliusie and Card.

"We are also seeing advanced vocabulary in both languages (Inuktitut and English), as we are learning with the seasons and what the land offers each season."


A tupiq for Nuna School

Reality became even more dream-like with a new tent classroom, with heat, next to the main school building. Sikitu Sales & Service flew the tent up from Newfoundland and NCC Development Ltd. supplied the materials and labour to erect the tent, which went up last week.

Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo
The students and teachers of Nanook School are proud of their new tupiq, the new heated Nuna School Program classroom next door. The school bought the new tent in Newfoundland, while Sikitu Sales & Service ensured it got to Iqaluit and NCC Development Ltd. donated the materials and the labour to build it.

"The tupiq is the main camp, where the students can warm up. Elders can visit and do programming with the students, or students from Inuksuk High School can come share. It's a community place to eat palauga (bannock), drink tea and hot chocolate, dry gear in the rafters," said Card.

"As well, to invite the elders into the tent to expand our knowledge in Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, like sewing and introducing seal skin cleaning from beginning to the end that we would love to record with the kids," said Kuniliusie.

"They should be the pillars of our education, at least in our Nunavut. As well, for younger generations, we can learn from them, too, especially for being out on the land. There are some words, some vocabulary we don't use when we're in the community or when we're in the school. Our Inuktitut vocabulary really expands with words that are not used inside the building."

Elder Solomon Awa, for example, has been to the school to teach iglu-building. That was in the spring. But now with a warm tent, Nanook School hopes to invite more elders.

"Our Elders need to be a big part of our school curriculum, to have an Elder or two present all the time," said Kuniliusie.

Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo
Nowhere is safety more important than at school on the land and the students were trained from the first day in September to respond when called.

Kuniliusie, who teaches Grades 1 and 2, and Card, who teaches kindergarten, are a team, along with kindergarten teacher Kootoo Alainga and Grade 1 and 2 teacher Maata Peters, and the other staff – language specialist Kalapik Pishuktie, learning coach Jeremy Smith, Grade 3 to 5 teacher Tanya Bjornson and student support assistant Hugh Blackburn.

"That is why it's going to thrive, and it's going to work out, because we need to be a team out here (outdoors), naturally," said Kuniliusie, adding it's the traditional way.

"We're going to incorporate the principles of IQ (Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit) and introduce what they actually mean and integrate them out here. We're actually going to practice it, out here."

Plus, every subject can be taught outdoors: language – Inuktitut and English – gym, art, social studies, science, math, literacy, drama and music.

Card says there are no behaviour issues outdoors.

"The more natural the setting, the calmer the child," she said.

"Children with issues such as ADHD, they really benefit from this program. They really immerse themselves when in the classroom they can't sit still," said Kuniliusie.

"They thrive out here, then they take that focus back into the classroom," said Card. "We see a whole different student when we do go back inside to do other work."

In terms of logistics, Knickelbein says having a small K-5 school with 49 students and a supportive community allows Nanook to do this a little more easily than larger schools. The project is not complete, he said, but it's well on its way.

Card says currently her kindergarten class is out every day from 9:15 to 10:30 a.m.

"With the tupiq we will be able to stay out longer. Some days kindergarten to Grade 2 is out in the morning before and after snack. Grades 1 to 5 will soon be out every day in the afternoon. Or almost every day," she said.

Support from the parents and the Apex District Education Authority was integral.

"We've had parent/teacher all day today (Nov. 15) and the support was overwhelming," said Knickelbein.

Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo
The students of Nanook School pose in their brand-new tupiq classroom after entering for the first time. 

"There are a lot of parents that have had horrible time with institutions across the North historically and it can be quite intimidating – just coming for parent/teacher interview today. People don't always feel comfortable there (in schools). You can see people's anxieties."

Knickelbein said this is a step to reconciling education in the North so that it's appropriate.

"Sort of decolonizing the way education is presented, from the institutionalized version to something more community-driven."