A preschool program in Pond Inlet that blends Montessori educational methods with Inuit traditional methods has proved so successful it has expanded to Clyde River.
Karen Nutarak and Tessa Lochhead worked for several years to get the Pond Inlet project started, with hopes early childhood educators would be trained locally at Nunavut Arctic College while carrying out their practicum at the specially created Pirurvik Preschool.
"The idea was we had a two-year ECE (early childhood education) program and the preschool opened to provide a practicum location," said Lochhead, adding that usually the college doesn't offer the diploma in communities because of lack of location.
"But they agreed (to do so) on the basis that we would open a preschool that would be appropriate."
That preschool opened in January 2016.
The Makigiaqta Inuit Training Corporation then approached Pirurvik Preschool to develop training modules, which were developed this past summer, said Lochhead.
The Pond preschool now has funding from Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) for a third and fourth year, even though the diploma program is completed. But QIA has gone further – it's funding a similar preschool/afterschool program in Clyde River via Ilisaqsivik.
"QIA has funded this program through our Iligiktunut Fund, which comes from our IIBA (Inuit Impact Benefit Agreement) with Baffinland. Ilagiiktunut focuses on projects in the five impacted communities," said QIA policy analyst Bethany Scott via e-mail.
The Pond staff trained the Clyde staff throughout November, and helped set up all the materials.
Samantha Koonoo, lead staff member from the Pirurvik Preschool in Pond Inlet, helped train Ailene Kadloo, Eena Iqaqrialu and Kelly Arnakak.
Lochhead explains that for the first week of training in November, the Clyde River staff spent a week at the original preschool, after which training continued in Clyde.
"We'd ordered all of the materials over several months. We literally built the preschool in one week," said Lochhead.
That was the second week. For the third week, Koonoo, with children in the space, then continued training the staff.
"It's so successful because we're teaching our little children at the preschool with traditional ways of learning, and it's the same method as Montessori," said Koonoo.
"I am so happy for what we're doing with the children in Pond Inlet and Clyde River."
The preschool program is so successful that teachers at Ulaajuk School in Pond Inlet are pairing up preschool graduates with non-graduates.
"We get feedback about the kids who were in preschool and now in kindergarten. The teachers say the preschoolers from the last year are helping out the ones who weren't in preschool," said Koonoo.
Because the programming is child-based, as well as community-based, it is adaptable to whichever community wants to take it on. In Pond, it's preschool. In Clyde, it's parents and tots (age 0 to 5), and after school (age 6 to 12).
Kadloo says in Clyde they wanted a preschool for the children. She also said the teaching materials are awesome, and the children love them.
"They didn't want to leave the building," said Kadloo.
Iqaqrialu loves kids, which is why she's involved with the new program. She found the programming hard at first, but she got used to it, she said.
Part of the training in Clyde River included the young children.
"They were happy little kids," said Iqaqrialu.
Montessori is a system that begins with the child, and it's flexible in the sense it's completely adaptable to the environment. For Nunavut, that means learning is Inuit-centered.
In early 2016 Nutarak explained that, "back in the day our ancestors learned at their own pace by watching and trying out things that their parents were doing. That was one of our goals, to have children learn at their own pace."
And as funder, QIA notes, "The Pirurvik Preschool takes Montessori’s child-centered approach to learning and grounds it in Inuit culture. It puts the focus on the interests and learning of the children. This program is guided by the IQ principle of pilimmaksarniq, allowing children to learn at their own pace, but using resources that are culturally relevant, from the curriculum to the toys within the daycare."
Koonoo says other communities have heard about these successes and might be interested in tailoring the program for themselves and their little ones.
She says she looks forward to training more early childhood educators in the future.
"I love it. It's fun, teaching other caregivers," said Koonoo.
"This is a model that has received great feedback from instructors and parents. From our end, it’s a very well-run and well-administered program. It would be great to see it used in communities if there are others who want to adopt this approach to preschool," said QIA's Scott.
The new pre- and after-school school program officially begins Dec. 11.