School District 72 is setting up an Indigenous immersion program at Ripple Rock Elementary. Photo, Mike Chouinard/Campbell River Mirror

Campbell River school to get Indigenous immersion program

School district hopes to get 12 to 18 kids for pilot project this fall

School District 72 will be piloting a Liq’wala/Kwak’wala language immersion program for young students at Ripple Rock Elementary this September.

The trustees passed a motion to set up a two-year pilot program at the school at their last board meeting in December.

The move followed a presentation about the program by assistant superintendent Nevenka Fair.

“We all know that language really is the foundation of culture,” she told the board. “We appreciate the board’s support for exploring this. The journey so far has been really exciting.”

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The district will now look for Indigenous and non-Indigenous parents to enrol their children in the program, which is to consist of the kindergarten curriculum in both English and Kwak’wala, with a district kindergarten teacher and Kwak’wala language teacher to provide instruction.

It will start with kindergarten in September 2019 and could expand to include both kindergarten and Grade 1 students if there is sufficient interest. At present, the district wants between 12 and 18 students for the program.

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The idea came about as the result of a district team charged with the task of looking for ways to increase the use of Indigenous language in the school system. The proposal aligns with the district support of the Laichwiltach language revitalization work.

It is also a response to calls for more culturally appropriate curricula following the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as the province’s redesigned curriculum and early learning framework.

“I think this is where we need to be spending our money,” said trustee Daryl Hagen. “I think this fits in perfectly where the federal government has gone. There’s been a lot of talk about reconciliation…. I think it would be very prudent at this time to step up to the plate and say, ‘It’s time. We’re running out of time.’ This would be a very opportune, proactive way of showing that we mean what we say and we do what we say.”

Hagen added that his wish is to get the program running and provide a model for other districts in the province.

To oversee the development of the pilot project, the district team consisted of team of Fair, district principal of Indigenous education Greg Johnson, Curtis Wilson of the Wei Wai Kum, Chief Brian Assu of We Wai Kai, and Laichwiltach language revitalization consultant Dee Cullon.

“About two years ago, we were approached by the We Wai Kai and the Wei Wai Kum First Nations, and they wondered if there was a way that we could work creatively together to look at how we could increase … the amount of language being learned in our schools,” Fair said.

The group’s vision for this program included revitalizing languages as well as building bridges in the community, she said.

The process included open houses at Quinsam, Kwakiutl District Council and Willow Point Lions Hall to allow for people to provide input.

“We made sure that the proposal matches the feedback we received,” she said.

Trustee John Kerr said he and other board members attended an open house, saying there was a lot of support for the idea.

“There were parents who have children in the pre-K program who were really enthusiastic about having their children continue on in Indigenous language immersion kindergarten,” he said.

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