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'It's gone too far'
Rankin principal reflects on student respect, attendance, language issues after 25 years in education

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services
Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sarah Ayaruak joined a pretty exclusive club when she was presented with her 25-year service award in education earlier this month in Rankin Inlet.

NNSL photograph

Leo Ussak Elementary School principal Sarah Ayaruak is presented with her 25-year service award by Kivalliq School Operations executive-director Bill Cooper earlier this month in Rankin Inlet. - photo courtesy of Sarah Ayaruak

Ayaruak has spent her entire career in Rankin and, during that time, she has moved up her career ladder one step at a time from her beginnings as a student support assistant to her present-day position of principal of Leo Ussak Elementary School.

Maani Ulujuk Ilinniarvik in Rankin was kindergarten to Grade 12 when Ayaruak started her career.

She moved over to Leo Ussak in 1988 and has called the school home ever since.

Ayaruak said she has seen a lot of changes in the community since her career began.

She said some of those changes have been fairly positive, while others have not.

"The two biggest changes in the students since I started in education is that they don't speak our language anymore, and most of them have far less respect today for themselves, or anybody around them," said Ayaruak.

"That lack of respect often makes things more difficult for everybody, including parents.

"I wish I could say it can still be changed or fixed but it's gone too far.

"Technology may have played a part in it, but, really, kids today just get away with too many things with no accountability for their actions."

Ayaruak said she had absolutely no training when she first started as a student support assistant.

She said, at the time, she was interpreting for Johnny Ugjuk, who was a deaf student in Rankin.

"Since I had no training, I read an American sign-language book every single day.

"I read the book before I went to school in the morning and after I returned in the evening.

"I was trying very hard to stay on top of things and make sure Johnny understood what was being taught, and, also, what he had to do during a lesson or with any assignment they might have been given.

"I tried my best to make sure I knew what I was doing so I wouldn't let Johnny down, and he would always understand what was going on and what he had to do."

Ayaruak got her first class as a teacher in 1993, when she was assigned a kindergarten class.

There were 66 kindergarten students and two kindergarten teachers at Leo Ussak in 1993, so Ayaruak had to hit the floor running during her first year of teaching.

Ayaruak said she had 27 students in her first group.

She said she had to count heads every day for the first two weeks to make sure everyone came back anytime they went anywhere.

"There was one group in an Inuktitut class, and all the rest were English classes.

"So, my other group would always socialize in my classroom because everything was in Inuktitut in my room.

"Then I would switch with the English teacher and her students would come to socialize in my room and have their snacks as she taught the subjects."

Rankin has grown significantly in size and population during the past 25 years.

Ayaruak said parents were always involved with their children's education when she started teaching, and a lot of parents came to parent-teacher interviews throughout the 1990s.

She said, right now, a younger generation of parents are not as involved as they should be.

"Parents tended to be older when I started and, I think, parents now being so much younger is a good part of the reason why they're not very involved today.

"Also, back then, a lot of grandparents either raised their grandchildren or were a lot more involved with them than they are now, so, today, attendance is a big issue for all three schools in Rankin because we deal with the same kids from the same families in each school.

"From kindergarten to Grade 4, our attendance can get pretty low in the morning because the kids are tired and the parents don't want to wake them in many cases, but, if a teacher comes to tell me a student has not attended for three days, I get them to contact the parents.

"If there's no improvement, he or she meets with me or our community-school counsellor and, once the community-school counsellor calls, there's usually a little bit of improvement, so we go back to square one."

Ayaruak said, today, Leo Ussak has more students who require extra support but the school doesn't have the human resources to meet their needs.

She said they float their student support assistants around as best they can to try and meet the needs of their students.

"The biggest challenge for our elementary grades in Rankin right now is language.

"We have Inuktitut classes from kindergarten to Grade 3, and English classes from kindergarten to Grade 4 but it's very hard for teachers and students in the Inuktitut classes because the students don't speak Inuktitut.

"We encourage them to speak Inuktitut at home with their parents but it's hard because it's often not being spoken enough at home.

"It's an ongoing challenge for everyone."

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