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This construction program for women was offered last fall and is just one of many examples of the assortment of training opportunities made available through Nuiyak school in Sanikiluaq. - NNSL file photo

Nuiyak school gets an A+

Derek Neary
Northern News Services
Monday, March 26, 2007

SANIKILUAQ - With rich Inuit cultural programming, a wide array of subject areas, dedicated staff and plenty of participation from local residents, Sanikiluaq's Nuiyak school has been identified as an exemplary institution.

The school is one of 10 highlighted in a new 350-page study on achievement in aboriginal education.

The study makes reference to the school's numerous partnerships in the community, which has led to a vibrant Inuit studies curriculum, a dynamic media and technology program, trades training, a community museum that highlights Inuit tradition and numerous extracurricular activities including sports.

"We found really creative and innovative strategies at Nuiyak in terms of trying to get the whole community involved through the school," said Helen Raham, research director for the Society for the Advancement of Excellence in Education based in Kelowna, B.C.

Raham praised Nuiyak's staff for their visionary leadership, particularly in bringing such a broad range of opportunities to a small, remote community.

The school has close to 300 students enrolled in kindergarten through Grade 12. There are 24 staff members, half Inuit and half non-Inuit. The report points to continuity in leadership as an asset.

Since 1997, the school has had co-principals in Lisi Kavik, a Sanikiluaq native, and John Jamieson, who hails from the Toronto area and came North in 1982.

In an interview last week, Jamieson said Kavik was instrumental in developing the Inuit cultural program and reaching out to the community. She said she tries to have elders come into the school regularly to impart knowledge.

"We love our elders," she said.

Kavik who earned a national Outstanding Principal award from the Learning Partnership earlier this year, said Jamieson was the reason she got involved in teaching.

"If John didn't ever come around here and push people like he does, then I wouldn't be sitting where I am today," she said.

Jamieson explained that the school's association with Najuqsivik Daycare, a non-profit group, has helped to bring in additional funding through government agencies, which has been critical.

"That is a real plus because there is just not enough money in school programs to run the programs that you'd like," he said, adding that he is also grateful for the outstanding level of community participation.

Despite all the progress, the school's graduation rate is not much better than the territorial rate, which hovers around 25 per cent. With nine grads in 2005/06, it has gradually been climbing in Sanikiluaq, Kavik noted, but Jamieson conceded that "our drop-out rate is very high."

He contended that an academic diploma shouldn't be the sole measure of success.

Many students, for whom English is a second language, leave school with various skills that don't translate through the departmental Alberta achievement exam, he said.

Those skills may include making parkas, kamiks, qamutiiks and small engine repairs, for example.

For that reason Jamieson said he and Kavik have been talking about creating an alternative diploma for cultural learning.

"They could leave our school knowing they have accomplished something of very good value," said Jamieson. "I think it would really help the self-esteem of our students to have that achievement."