Margaret Mattes is excited about teaching, and about learning.
This is good for Mattes and also for the First Nations students of School District 91, because Mattes is the new vice-principal of aboriginal education for the district.
While aboriginal education is an area of concern, with aboriginal students finding less success within the current school system, Mattes will be looking for new ways to integrate the local First Nations’ culture and language into the curriculum.
“We’re very excited about having Margaret on,” said Calvin Desmarais, principal of aboriginal education for School District 91.
One of Mattes’ projects will be to develop a curriculum recognized district-wide so everyone can use it to integrate the Dakelh language and culture into the schools. The curriculum will be getting put forward to the Ministry of Eduction so Dakelh can be a recognized second language program, one which would eventually be used towards language credit for university applications.
Mattes will be drawing on other local resources, such as Nellie Dionne, a long-time language teacher in Fort St. James who has done a lot of work on developing curriculum resources and specialized online tools to teach Dakelh.
The resources Dionne developed could help students across the entire district once the curriculum is developed.
To begin with, Mattes will be creating a database of all of the different resources and materials being used across the district, because there are pockets of the language and culture being taught throughout.
Mattes will be collecting all of these pieces and then Mattes will attempt to develop, increase and integrate all of it into something everyone can use.
Both Mattes and Dionne together are excited to pass on their knowledge of the traditional language and culture.
“What’s really exciting is when we get Nellie and Margaret together,” said Desmarais.
Mattes is also thrilled about the technology now available for students to engage with the material.
The new smart boards which have been installed in some classrooms allow students to work together on interactive games and activities to learn languages. At Sowchea Elementary, Mattes and Cam McCormick, principal of the school have been working together and will teach two languages in one language class, Dakelh and French.
The two languages are then brought into play on the same activities on the smart board, and students can have fun learning the two languages at once.
A demonstration of the smart board activities was interactive and allowed for fast vocabulary-based activities in both french and Dakelh.
It was the first week of school during the demonstration, so the students had not gotten to try it out yet, but the games and activities are sure to keep the students’ attention.
Learning the two languages together will help stimulate language learning, and learning another language has been shown to even improve a student’s first language.
“Success begets success,” said McCormick.
The work Mattes is doing will help to further aboriginal education enhancement, something the district had worked on seven to eight years ago, with an aboriginal enhancement agreement between the school district and Sai’kuz. The district is now working on a second aboriginal enhancement agreement with the 13 First Nations within the district.
A First Nations council meets once a month to discuss education concerns, and allows the district to set goals and priorities.
Having the strong cultural representation within the schools will also help to foster belonging for all of the students.
“I believe that diversity is the key,” said Mattes. “People need to know that they belong.”
With a large proportion of the population being First Nation across the school district, integrating the culture and language into the curriculum makes sense.
“It’s just a natural fit,” said Desmarais.
Mattes is not only looking forward to working on broader goals for the entire school district, but also to be doing it partly based at Sowchea Elementary in particular. Mattes will work out of both the main district office and Sowchea.
It was nine or 10 years ago when Mattes first did her teaching practicum at Sowchea Elementary, and the Tache resident is glad she has gotten to come back to the school where she began her teaching career, saying the school had a big influence on her.
Mattes started out working in the office at Eugene Joseph in Tache, and was inspired by teacher Kim Repko. Mattes saw how excited Repko was about teaching and how excited the kids were about learning. So Mattes pursued teaching through the CNC and UNBC in Prince George and then did her Post Degree Program for teacher certification in Prince George as well.
The inspiration has clearly carried on, and years later Mattes will now be influencing students across the district through her work.
“Language is so much fun,” said Mattes.