Teachers pledge fresh support for northern reading camps
TheStar.com – Ontario/Parentcentral.ca
August 18, 2010. Louise Brown EDUCATION REPORTER
They are the most at-risk children in Canada, in more danger of dying young and living poor than any of their peers.
Aboriginal children born into the 49 fly-in reserves that dot the vast woodlands of northern Ontario have long been more likely to drop out of school, remain illiterate and attempt suicide than young people anywhere else in the province. They are among the young Canadians with the least hope.
Yet a five-year push on literacy in these remote reserves is starting to make a difference, Grand Chief Stan Beardy told Ontario’s elementary teachers in a blunt speech Wednesday in Toronto.
He said free summer literacy camps sponsored by the Ontario Lieutenant-Governors’ office are fuelling a new interest in learning that teachers report they began noticing in the fall.
“They’re telling us the children’s attitudes are more positive, they see a sense of purpose among students and really, a sense of hope starting,” Beardy said Wednesday after addressing the annual meeting of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.
“Even their contact with outside youth who come to work as summer camp counsellors helps them know that other young people care about them, and gives them hope,” said Beardy, grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation.
The 500 delegates voted to renew the union’s financial support of these aboriginal literacy programs by raising their annual donation to $45,000 a year for five years, from a previous $35,000 a year.
“I think our students here in Toronto should know the experience of these northern children,” said Toronto teacher Frances Greenidge, “and start to think about offering the same kind of help to aboriginal children in Ontario as we offer to international disaster victims.”
The union is one of a number of groups that support the camps set up by former lieutenant-governor James Bartleman, an aboriginal who credits books with lifting him from poverty. Current Lieutenant-Governor David Onley has maintained support for the camps, as well as continued book drives for communities with no public libraries, no book stores and few books in private homes.
“It’s a long way north, and 40,000 people live in this region characterized by poverty, a suicide rate almost seven times the national average and dire socio-economic conditions that combine to create Third World conditions,” Onley told the teachers.
Victoria Wabasse is a parent and kindergarten teacher in the remote reserve of Nibinamik First Nation, who has written to the lieutenant-governor’s office to praise the program.
“I send my four children to the camp, and my children tell me about the books they read, the arts and crafts and games they play. Some of my students who went to camp this year seem more able to pay attention when I am reading or telling them a story.”
Ennis Jacob is director of education at Webequie First Nation, and noted the camps “provide a healthy outlet for our children during the summer so they are not bored and get into mischief. Over the years the number of our youth who stay in school and move on to high school is increasing.”
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