Grade 6-8 students at Mine Centre School have visited Florida, Texas, Alberta, and the Yukon—all without leaving the building.
The students have been able to participate in virtual field trips thanks to a program called “Connected North,” which officially was launched there last Thursday.
Mine Centre School was chosen by Cisco to be part of the program back in 2014. But due to the lack of bandwidth in the community at the time, the project had to be delayed until more could be acquired.
Finally in November, the school were able to begin using Cisco’s high-definition, two-way video communication and collaboration technology in monthly sessions.
Willa Black, Cisco’s vice-president of Corporate Affairs who was on hand at Thursday’s official launch, said “Connected North” is a leading-edge program that delivers immersive and interactive education services to remote indigenous communities.
“The focus of the program is to provide a fresh approach to learning, allowing teachers and administrators to expose their students to new people, experiences, and ideas,” she noted.
“I can’t tell you how great it is to actually be with people who are using it and working with the program,” Black told those gathered in the Grade 6-8 classroom.
“It’s such an exciting day to be able to officially launch this program in Mine Centre,” she enthused, adding the technology they’re using is brand new.
“You are one of the first schools in Canada to be using it,” Black told the students.
“Our company makes this technology and we decided that it would be really useful to bring it to northern communities, remote communities, where you don’t have aquariums or science centres or museum,” she explained.
“But this will let you go to those places and meet people.”
During Thursday’s event, Mine Centre students connected with the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, as well as with students from West Point Grey Academy in Vancouver, to build on classroom discussions around the theme of survival.
The Alaska SeaLife Centre first took the students on a virtual field trip of the zoo and used its animal ambassadors to demonstrate how survival looks in the animal kingdom.
Students then had the opportunity to ask questions and also share their thoughts around survival in the wilderness through a special collaborative art piece.
Teachers from Mine Centre and West Point Grey Academy co-planned the activity in collaboration with TakingITGlobal, the lead education partner for the “Connected North” program.
Thomas, a student in Vancouver, explained their class wanted to create something that connected both schools and the landscape in both communities.
They sketched a tree and for the leaves, they wrote their best survival tips, including outdoor survival tips, but also ideas about how to survive emotionally through life’s challenges.
But they left the project unfinished so Mine Centre students could complete it.
“We can’t wait to see what you have created and how our two schools worked together to create something really special,” Thomas said.
While learning about different survival skills, the Mine Centre students started making connections to the “Seven Grandfather” teachings.
Each teaching is represented by an animal, which they included in the roots of the art project.
“We’re really proud to have this program,” enthused Heather Campbell, director of education for the Rainy River District School Board.
“We’ve always worked to provide programming opportunities for students, but ‘Connected North’ takes the Grade 6-8 class beyond these four walls and explore and learn more about our world through aquarium visits, museum visits, learning from experts,” she remarked.
Campbell thanked all the partners for giving the students this opportunity.
“We are giving them opportunities so that they can be leaders not only today but tomorrow,” she stressed.
Mine Centre School principal Barbe Dennis noted one of their priorities is living a positive, strength-based life while at school and at home in our communities.
“Culture is at the centre of what we do here at Mine Centre School,” she remarked, noting they encourage the use of spirit names, attempt to use the Ojibwe language where possible, and work hard to make connections between the provincial curriculum and indigenous language and culture.
“Participation in the ‘Connected North’ program is invaluable for our students,” Dennis said.
“‘Connected North’ gives our students voice over their learning through customized programming that relates directly to their strengths and their interests.”
Dennis added it provides the students with opportunities to visit places they otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to go.
“And it provides openings for our youth to collaborate with other students across this beautifully vast country of ours,” she reasoned.
“Most importantly, it gives our kids a chance to listen to, speak with, and learn from indigenous role models,” she stressed.
“These role models have messages of belief in culture, community, family, and our connection to Mother Earth.
“They bring messages of strength, dreaming, and believing in your dreams, working hard to achieve your goals, and to always have hope for the future.”
In their sessions so far, the Mine Centre students have visited the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Florida, Space Center Houston, and the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Alberta.
They’ve also met Olympic boxer Mary Spencer, elder Duke Redbird of Saugeen First Nation who is a Canadian poet and activist, and Doronn Fox from the Yukon who talked about land survival.
“We can go on a field trip whenever we want without worrying about proximity,” said teacher Jessica Sweigard, noting the students are able to indicate what they’d like to learn about and the field trips are designed based on their interests.
“It opens the world to us, really,” she enthused. “I’m excited for the future and what next year will bring.”
Black, meanwhile, stressed it’s not only about what the Mine Centre School students can learn, but also about what they can share.
“The other thing we think is so important about this program is your culture and your values and your connections to the land, the way you live your lives, and you as people have so much to offer everybody else in Canada,” she said.
“You can use this technology as a way to meet others and share what is meaningful and important to you,” Black told the class.
“We really think strongly at Cisco that this is about connecting people, but the communication goes both ways,” she added.
“It’s not just about what comes in to you but what you can bring to others.”