Collaboration Leads to Success

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Sagamok School and Water First Testing New Waters

The Water First Indigenous School Water Programs team works primarily in schools within Indigenous Communities. During lockdowns caused by COVID-19 we have been fortunate to have the opportunity to continue working with our community partners through a virtual water science program called “What’s in Your Water.” Funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation made this program come to life, but the driving current behind the program’s success is,of course, the excellent people we work with on the ground in each community. Without teachers, students and principals who are willing to host and help our staff the program could not succeed! A special thanks goes out to all the teachers and students out there willing to give us a chance through video chat workshops.

For a small glimpse into our work imagine the struggle of your everyday zoom calls at work or with family and friends. You may wonder to yourself are they really listening to you or are they distracted by something just off-camera? Now multiply that by a class full of eleven-year-olds. This is our experience with the grade 6 class at Biidaaban Kinoomaagegamik School in Sagamok First Nation. Our programming with Sagamok this February has taught us a great deal about how important trust-building and meaningful relationships are to our program success.

Consider the classroom teacher; a trusted collaborator that believes in the value of our program. They manage the class in a way we can’t, hundreds of kilometres away. They are the fingers to our outstretched arms. To paint you a better picture, this is what a typical “instructional” portion of a virtual delivery might look like.

As you can imagine it is difficult for us on the other side of the computer screen to know how much the students are absorbing, so we rely on the classroom teacher to communicate the tone of the class to us.

Fast forward to the hands-on portion of our workshops. Even in the blistering winter “What’s in Your Water” participants enthusiastically apply their knowledge by building their own watershed in the snow, a leap from creating a paper version inside.

As exciting as these pictures look, the largest challenge for us at Water First was not being there in person to see the students applying the knowledge we shared. We relied completely on our teacher collaborators to take pictures in the field, and we learned second hand about the student successes. After creating their topographic watershed models in the snow Ms. L reported that  “It was great to watch some of the students comparing the different maps they were provided with as they built their community in the snow. You could see them figuring out the meaning behind the different maps as they added to their own. They problem solved and that was great!” This of course is something we were used to seeing in person when we could visit each community, but it was a relief to us as instructors to know the lesson had not been lost.

The most exciting report we got back from Ms. L was after the students took a bus to their local lake, Lake LeCloche, and measured water quality parameters. She said that there were students correcting and helping one another, and they started asking her complex questions about their measurements that even she wasn’t prepared for. Ms. L explained to us that as the workshops went on, she could see the students getting more familiar with the tools. She could see the students becoming more efficient and independent using the water testing resources. Hearing this report proved that the students were interested in their water health, and knowing that they cared deeply about the connections to their land provided the assurance we needed as we continue to navigate the challenges of virtual program delivery.

Thank you to the Trillium Foundation for making it possible!