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Keeping it in the community
New preschool offers learning for both children and homegrown educators

Stewart Burnett
Northern News Services
Friday, January 29, 2016

A new preschool in Pond Inlet isn't just educating children, but the community's next teachers, too.

NNSL photo/graphic

Charlotte Maktar, an early childcare education student, laughs as Jazmine Quasa plays with pegs. - photo courtesy of Tessa Lochhead

Pirurvik Preschool, which officially opened Jan. 14, serves multiple needs in one swoop, offering both a play-based learning environment for children and a real-world practicum experience for soon-to-be teachers in Nunavut Arctic College's early childcare education program.

"It's like on-the-job training," said Karen Nutarak, co-director of the project.

She's been working on the idea for four years along with co-director Tessa Lochhead.

"It's very hard in a remote community to leave for an education," said Nutarak. "It benefits the community training people at home, being with their family and their children, and it also helps reduce poverty."

The preschool is housed in Ulaajuk Elementary School and has 18 children from two and a half to four years old attending classes in the afternoons. Lochhead said placing the school inside the elementary school, and close to the community's kindergarten, will also help children become accustomed to the school before they transition to the next step in their education.

College students enrolled in the two-year early childcare education diploma program help facilitate the classes, which run on the IQ principle Pilimmaksarni, meaning that children should learn through play.

"Back in the day our ancestors learned at their own pace by watching and trying out things that their parents were doing," said Nutarak about where inspiration for the teaching style came from. "That was one of our goals, to have children learn at their own pace."

Educators aid children in reading, playing with shapes, creating art and learning Inuktitut syllabics with a variety of tools.

"What's wonderful about this approach is that children are guided by their own natural curiosity, so they pick and choose materials that are available to them and work on them for as long as they like, play with them as long as they would like, but it's their ultimate choice, guided by their natural instincts," explained Lochhead.

She thinks the school should serve as a model for community training and employment.

In two years, the goal is for graduates of the early childcare education program to be hired locally and move into full-time teaching roles.

"We want to make sure that we are able to continue as is for the next year and half," said Lochhead about what's next. "Then in fall of 2017, we will be able to hire students from the college program to run the preschool."

She and Nutarak want to enhance the preschool to classes of 18 both before and after lunch, and they also want to make it free for parents to enroll their children. But that will take additional funding, which the two directors are in the midst of procuring.

"We're so excited that this is actually happening," said Lochhead.

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