“We want to move towards inclusion through engagement” : Spotlight on Biggar Central School in Saskatchewan

Coming in with open minds and open hearts to support a wide learning community!

This school community is in the center of a rich agricultural area with students bussing in from the small village of Landis, in addition to their rural base of students and those residing within their small town. They are in close proximity to Red Pheasant and Mosquito First Nations, with Biggar actively working towards reconciliation and expanding their learning on indigenous perspectives. For their CPSN project, this team wanted to build an opportunity to play on the land through all seasons with the major objective of building and strengthening community connections (click here for more information!).

For this interview, I (Sajani) sat down with the Biggar Central School CPSN team to talk about the inspiring work they have done during this year of play.

The Project

How did the idea for your project come about?

We wanted to incorporate more First Nations, Métis and Inuit content into our subjects, and we were really passionate about it. We’ve done outdoor education and land-based activities before, so we wanted to find a way to mix those things all together. We found out that another school was getting dog sleds and listening to their ideas, we were like, how can we kind of mix all this together? And we came up with the idea of basing it around the traditional First Nations Winter Festival. So, that’s how it’s all weaved together and we had this really beautiful winter festival.

Our indigenous consultant really helped us with the ideas and just with teaching us about the concept of Winter Festivals and it really resonated with us because we live in Saskatchewan. It’s very cold here and mental health is definitely something that we’ve been concerned about in these students that we’ve been working with. So that was the original purpose of a traditional Winter Festival, it was to get together when it’s cold and just be able to support each other. This was a big passion for all of us. That’s been one of the big wins for this project, just the staff engagement and how it’s just really added so much vitality to our year.

What would you say was the inspiration behind this project?

We had done some outdoor Ed and some land-based activities, but we really made a conscious effort this year to find a way to make anything we’re doing outdoors. We knew we could incorporate land-based education. So it really took off this year with the grant. Just having more access to funds enables us to tap into more resources, like we used our Indigenous educator and our Indigenous knowledge holder to support this plan. We are aware that there have been some big biases towards First Nations communities that surround the town, so we wanted to help bridge that gap.

We went out and visited one of the Reserve Schools and they taught us a lot and then we eventually went to their science fair. We’ve been sort of coaching ourselves along in this process. It can feel very vulnerable and a little uncomfortable because these are different ways of doing than what we’re used to. The discomfort comes from not wanting to disrespect or misrepresent the community. It’s important to note that we are also learning and that’s OK. That’s part of the journey and we’ve just been trying to lean into that, being vulnerable and being open to doing things in a different way. We’ve also been focusing on building those connections and those relationships with the people that are just outside of our community, so this was the inspiration.

The School

Is your project connected to the curriculum?

In Saskatchewan, First Nations, Métis and Inuit content is in every grade. In every subject, it’s weaved throughout the whole curriculum. So, we were looking for a way to do it authentically as opposed to just using it as an example in Math. A big question was ‘how could we authentically use this?’

Going to the Treaty 6 science fair was phenomenal for giving us, as educators, insight into how we could include that. Visiting the Reserve School and connecting with them as much as we did wasn’t part of our original plan. But, it just came out of this relationship that we’ve been building, and it was so enriching for our students to be able to go and see these students from Treaty 6 schools be leaders and showcase their own indigenous technology. We talk a lot about technology in our school division. So it was just really insightful for us to go as learners and the kids to go as learners. It really just enriched the project to be able to have that opportunity.

What would you say is the major driver of this project for your school?

The major driver is inclusion, inclusion of the surrounding communities and reconciliation with our surrounding communities. It’s also so connected with engagement. We want to move towards inclusion through engagement. When the kids are engaged and as they’re engaged, they expand to include other perspectives. So, it’s been a lot more of a multi-layered project than we initially thought. We kind of put out this idea and it was actually a lot more meaningful as it organically unfolded.

The Team

How has working together in a project like this influenced your classroom practice?

It’s been really good because we all have pretty different skill sets, like Steven, who’s not here is just a tech wizard, and then he’s doing things that like, I didn’t know you could even do, so we all have very different skill sets. It’s definitely been an asset working together.

What would you say was the key takeaway from working together in this project?

I think having an idea and then just letting it grow authentically. At the beginning of the year, we wouldn’t have dreamed that we would have this. Just being open to all those opportunities throughout the year. We decided to do this novel study, but then this opportunity came and we got to actually implement the novel study. We got to get the author in to talk to our students, so it was just about being open and flexible with the new opportunities, which I think was huge.

The Students

How have your students responded to this project? What have you observed?

It was so special. Some of these students are not typically students that we would say stand out as leaders, but these are different types of opportunities that allow for different skills to be showcased. I would say almost all the kids that have taken on leadership roles are typically not the ones at the front of the pack asking for leadership, but they’ve really risen to that challenge, and they’ve really enjoyed it. I think it’s nice to see them very proud of themselves and the work that they’re doing as well. Since the event went so well and we got so much positive feedback about it, you could tell the kids were really excited that they were a part of that in a big way.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

I think maybe one other element we’ve alluded to so far is the relationships with students. That’s really been a bonus of this project. I know for me, I’ve really enjoyed that extra time I get to spend with the kids and having these opportunities outside and doing the festival. It’s so good for kids to have relationships with more than just their classroom teacher, right? For them to have other people that they connect with at the Winter festival.

They were in small groups and each group was a different animal that is of significance to the Cree people in our area. We had some staff come and help lead the day and one thing in our closing talking circle that people mentioned as a highlight was just the relationship with their little team. We also had invited our neighboring school to come to that, as well. Building relationships amongst adults and students was a highlight and will continue to be as we keep doing things outside.