Amiskwaciy Academy inspires hope, creativity and good grades

On Tuesday, September 2, 2014 Edmonton-based Amiskwaciy Academy welcomed in another school year, that will see more than 150 students, some of whom are new arrivals to the Alberta capital, working in earnest to achieve their scholastic goals. A new vice-principal, a cosmetology teacher who also teaches Jr. High math and science and a new custodian have also joined the Academy’s quality team of hard-working and caring individuals who go the extra mile to ensure that each student gets the best possible education that he or she can receive.

“It promises to be yet another exciting and activity-filled agenda for the 2014-15 school year,” smiled Principal Fred Hines, who returned to the Capital Region last month after having spent some of his summer teaching and working with students at the University of Winnipeg. “We have added some staff members this year and we have introduced many new students to our program, including some who’ve moved here from other regions of Alberta and beyond after hearing about the work we do and the goals we are accomplishing.”

The positive feedback from families and students who, until now, have only heard about the school isn’t surprising, especially when one considers the high graduation rate for students who’ve been attending Amiskwaciy Academy during the past several years. Last year the school graduated 22 young men and women, many of whom are now entering post-secondary education classes and vocational training schools.

Principal Fred Hines flanked by new staff members teacher Karen West and Assistant Principal  Lloyd Bloomfield.    Article and photos by John Copley

Principal Fred Hines flanked by new staff members teacher Karen West and Assistant Principal Lloyd Bloomfield.       Article and photos by John Copley

“We’re hoping to see that number increase to about 30 this year,” noted Hines. “We have another busy calendar of events scheduled for this school term and we are currently working to add some new initiatives to our vocational training program. The school is also proud to note that on July 16, Amiskwaciy Academy was presented with the Lost Prizes International Innovative Program Award from The University of Winnipeg in recognition of what the university inscribed as our ‘Inclusive Approach towards Honouring Diversity, Respecting Cultural Traditions, and Identifying and Developing the Talents of All Students.’ The presentation of this distinguished award came as a total surprise; it was a humbling experience and it made my heart swell with pride knowing that each and every member of our team has gone the extra mile to ensure that our students have the opportunity to get the best education possible. I can’t say enough about the hard work, dedication and ongoing accomplishments that our outstanding team of staff members and teachers provide to this school, team members who really do care about the young people they teach and work with every day.”

There have been a few exciting changes at the school this year, the first which sees former teacher/librarian Laurie Sorensen take on a new portfolio for the 2014-15 school year as she becomes the Academy’s Curriculum Coordinator.

“Laurie’s new position is an important one in that she will now be working with the District and many local area schools,” noted Hines. “She will be implementing and coordinating various cultural activities and events, both here and away. It’s a new challenge for Laurie and she is looking forward to the opportunity of meeting and working with teachers and students both at Amiskwaciy and other schools in our district.”

One of the newest editions to Amiskwaciy Academy’s administration is Vice Principal Lloyd Bloomfield, the former department head for Harry Ainlay High School’s Career and Technology Studies (CTS) program.

Principal Fred Hines said he wasa both humbled and very proud when he received a prestigous award from the University of Winnipeg's Lost Prizes International Conference this summer.

Principal Hines was both humbled and very proud to receive a prestigous award from the University of Winnipeg’s Lost Prizes International Conference this summer.

“Lloyd has a good understanding of Aboriginal peoples and the issues they face; he’s already developing a good rapport with the student body and comes to us with some outstanding qualifications,” noted Hines. “An experienced journeyman carpenter, he brings a wealth of knowledge to share with our students and is highly respected as a motivator and innovator when it comes to teaching such things as graphic arts and architecture.”

After receiving a Teacher of Excellence Award from Alberta Education during the last school year, Harry Ainlay administration noted that Bloomfield, who works tirelessly within the school, “ is also deeply committed to programs that involve students outside the building as well as the ongoing professional development of teachers in the Edmonton district and beyond. Outside the school Lloyd participates in the placement of University of Alberta education students involved in CTS studies and has served as Program Chair for the Greater Edmonton Teachers’ Convention Association.”

“This is the second time I’ve been with Amiskwaciy Academy,” noted Vice Principal Bloomfield, who said that “my first teaching job for Edmonton Public began right here in 2000. I enjoyed my time at Harry Ainlay, but this is a great opportunity for me; it’s like coming home.”

Bloomfield said he’s excited to be back at the Academy, participating in the unique programming the school offers to its large contingent of Aboriginal students.

“As an Aboriginal person myself, I understand many of the problems and roadblocks facing these young students,” he said. “I am very impressed with the school, the administration and the teaching staff. I really enjoy the morning songs, beats of the drum and the smell of sweetgrass wafting across the foyer; I am particularly pleased to be able to work with people like Fred Hines and Elder Francis Whiskeyjack, both of whom go the extra mile to ensure that every student feels at home here. The lunch program is second to none; no one goes hungry. Elder Whiskeyjack has a real connection to the school, the students and the staff and no matter who you are or what the circumstance, he is always ready to sit down for a one-on-one talk. I am very happy to be here.”

Bloomfield, whose non-Aboriginal father, Brian, and Dogrib mother, Victoria Erasmus, make their home in Fort Rae, NWT, is an experienced teacher who also taught construction carpentry, auto mechanics and welding at the Nipsikpak School on the Samson Cree Nation at Maskwacis.

Karen West begins her career as a school teacher this year, choosing to apply at Amiskwaciy Academy “because of the positive feedback I’ve received from my peers,” and “because it allows me an opportunity to give back to my community by helping young Aboriginal students move forward into a bright and successful future. I really enjoy the family atmosphere here at Amiskwaciy; I am excited about this new opportunity and look forward to working with the students and staff.”

“Karen is a great addition to our school,” assured Hines, who said that West arrived in Edmonton from her home in Whitecourt when she was offered a permanent position at the school. “She will be heading up our cosmetology classes and will also be teaching Jr. High math and science.”

New school custodian, Wadw Sim, has been with Edmonton Public Schools for more than two decades

New school custodian, Wadw Sim, has been with Edmonton Public Schools for over two decades

Wade Sim joined Amiskwaciy late last year as the school’s new custodian; he’s already got the facility in tip-top condition – all you have to do is look at the floors throughout the classrooms and hallways to know he’s on top of things.

“Wade has taken this school and treated it like his own home,” smiled Hines, pointing to the unbelievable shine that reflects off the brightly polished linoleum and tile floors that dominate every classroom and hallway in the institution. This is his second tenure with the school.”

“I’ve actually been with Edmonton Public for more than two decades,” explained Sim during a recent interview. “I left for a few years and served with the American military in Iraq (2004-2006) and in Afghanistan (2007-2009) before returning to Canada. I came back here to Amiskwaciy near the end of the last school year and I’m very happy to be working with such a dedicated staff, and an administration that goes out of its way to ensure that every student has the opportunity to learn and grow.”

Amiskwaciy Academy is an Edmonton Public School program of choice that provides solid academic programming within an Aboriginal context. The school, which is open to students of all backgrounds and cultures, honours the Aboriginal community and reflects its cultures, values, ancestral knowledge and traditions in achieving excellence in education. With the help of school and community Elders, it provides a meaningful and balanced curriculum, bringing together unique Aboriginal cultures, knowledge and languages in a positive and quality educational setting.

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by John Copley

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