Alberta’s Public School Boards hand out a number of special awards each year to individuals, organizations and institutions who are making a positive difference in their communities and their province. Just after the start of the 2014/15 school year, the Sagitawa Friendship Centre (SFC) in Peace River was pleased to hear that their organization had been chosen by the Peace River School Division’s board of trustees as the winning nominee for the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) Zone One “Friends of Education Award.”
“The involvement and influence of the Sagitawa Friendship Centre in schools and communities,” noted Board Chair Darren Kuester, “cultivates a spirit of inclusion, provides students with increased opportunities and a greater awareness of First Nations, Metis and Inuit heritage. Their contributions bridge gaps, strengthen relationships, build stronger communities and provide students with opportunities they would not otherwise have.”
SFC Executive Director Tracy Zweifel said news of the award was both exhilarating and humbling and “something that we’ll remember and cherish for a long time. The work we do with the schools and the students is very rewarding. It’s hard to describe but when you are helping to make a positive difference in the lives of young people, when you have the opportunity to guide them and help them achieve their goals, it’s a great thing, a good feeling. We have some outstanding programs in place and many positive stories to share, including the fact that the Sagitawa Friendship Centre celebrated 50 years of service in the community on September 24, 2014.”
The celebration, held in conjunction with the Alberta Native Friendship Centre Association’s Annual General Meeting, saw Friendship Centres from around the province as well as community members and partners in attendance.
SFC supports Peace River School District schools in various ways, such as funding and facilitating a variety of initiatives that include the Engaging Positive Youth Connections Program at T.A. Norris Middle School and student attendance with the Equine Assisted Learning Program, hosted by Northbase Outdoors, a local ranch that focuses on youth programming. The Friendship Centre also offers and delivers a variety of cultural presentations to classrooms throughout the region.
Last year SFC staff worked with all students at Peace River High School to discuss and increase awareness surrounding homelessness. In June, several PRSD schools were treated to an afternoon at the Tipi Village thanks to the sponsorship of SFC, NADC (Northern Alberta Development Council) and Daishawa-Marubeni International Ltd. through the “Million Minutes to Win It” reading program.
During the awards presentation PRSD #10 Trustee Sherry Crawford said the board of trustees was “thrilled to celebrate the Sagitawa Friendship Centre and its staff as the division’s Zone One Friends of Education Award nominee. This important award celebrates those who make special contributions to education and student learning. Through Sagitawa’s work within our schools and surrounding communities, hundreds of students, parents, staff and community members have been positively impacted by their contributions and presence. Their involvement and influence creates a spirit of inclusion, provides students with increased opportunities and fosters a greater awareness and appreciation for the First Nation, Metis and Inuit heritage.”
She went on to note that last June the SFC and its staff “treated 18 Peace Country youth, with the majority being Peace River School Division students, to an Alberta bound trip. Many students who went on this trip had never left their community before. They made visits to Jasper, Banff, Drumheller, Calgary and Edmonton. They participated in ziplining, horse-back riding, white water rafting and they had a three-nights stay on campus at Mount Royal University. A grade eight student told us during an interview that he was afraid of the thought of going to college before the trip. Now he says he can’t wait. The impact that Sagitawa and their kind and caring staff have on the lives of our youth, families, staff and community is far-reaching and something that we can never truly know.”
“It is especially gratifying to know that we are making a positive difference in the lives of our young people; to be recognized for it is a worthy accomplishment and we are all very proud today,” noted Zweifel, who elaborated on the key initiatives that helped spark the fire that led to the award.
The nine-day outing that SFC staff and volunteers shared with 18 students last summer was a highlight that Zweifel said will be long remembered by everyone who made the trip.
“There are so many great memories and stories to share about that trip – you’d have a write a book to get it all in,” she assured. “Many of our youth came from difficult backgrounds. For many of them this was their first trip away from home, the first time to a city, the first time to the mountains, first time on a horse, first time in a university and the first time in a restaurant. On their outings they learned a variety of new skills as well as how to interact respectfully as individuals. We explored careers in a very unconventional way that challenged and exposed them through their involvement. We started in Jasper and went hiking, white water rafting, and horseback riding. We camped in tents and all our meals were cooked over the camp stove or fire. Youth learned about preparing healthy meals, how to be responsible for their belongings and how to live in close quarters with others. They learned how to contribute to the group.”
The EPYC, (Engaging Positive Youth Connections) comes via an Alberta Justice initiative to reduce gang activity and gang related crime, as well to provide educational activities that would in turn create a safe and knowledgeable community.
“This particular program,” explained Zweifel, “played a key role in us receiving this prestigious award. We ran the program at T.A. Norris Middle School in Peace River. The program addressed working with youth and their families and making connections within the family unit and community. We ran two groups in the school – one boys’ group twice a week and one girls’ group once a week.”
The EPYC initiative, noted Zweifel, came to fruition when “with the assistance of two RCMP members we wrote this grant application to Alberta Justice – Civil Forfeiture Fund and were awarded $150,000 over two years to achieve positive outcomes in the areas we wanted to address; four were taken from the Alberta Crime Prevention Framework and eight were taken from the Alberta Gang Reduction Strategy. We believe that we have a very successful program that could be duplicated and shared with other communities. Our partners: RCMP, Northbase Outdoors, Alberta Works, T.A. Norris Middle School, and our own Ground Level Youth Centre and Elders were fundamental to our success.”
PRSD#10 Board Chair Darren Kuester applauded the SFC’s involvement in the District’s schools and the role it plays in helping to create greater high school completion rates.
“The SFC is a key organizer in the planning of the Aboriginal Career Conference, they join in celebration of our graduates at Pow Wow and provide on-going encouragement for youth in our communities to pursue career goals and higher education,” he noted. “We are honoured to nominate the Sagitawa Friendship Centre for the Friends of Education Award and thank them for their meaningful contributions to student learning, well-being and success. Their genuine commitment to youth and families makes a difference and is very much appreciated. We appreciate all of the support we receive from our partners throughout the community and from those in government. Successful education can’t be delivered exclusively by school boards; it takes a village working together to meet common goals.”
Covering 13,000 square kilometers and serving 11 communities, Peace River School District #10 is a geographically large school division. PRSD’s transportation department facilitates transportation for approximately 3,500 students per day within the school division and three neighbouring school divisions.
For more information on Peace River School District #10 check out the website at www.prsd.ab.ca. Click here to learn more about the programs and initiatives at the Sagitawa Friendship Centre or call 780-624-2443.
by John Copley