Christian Island Elementary School and Water First Building on Foundations
Our project with Beausoleil First Nation and the Christian Island Elementary School had humble beginnings in the spring of 2019 as we planned program dates to work at the school. The past two years have been an incredible journey of learning for our team, and we have seen a wonderful community partnership grow.
As you may expect, our original end date of the program, set for Spring 2020, was postponed due to COVID restrictions. We started making adjustments to virtual program delivery. This looked very different than anything we could have imagined when we began. However, it turned into a blessing because we had a rare and lovely opportunity to work with some of the same students two years in a row. As educators, we could not have been more excited to see familiar faces and build on the learning we did together the previous year. This opportunity led to impressive results and confirmed the importance of consecutive visits to communities and schools to build trust and see meaningful learning.
We delivered our first workshops with Beausoleil First Nation in November of 2019. We were in the community working directly with the students in their classes, hoping to guide a student-led conservation action project. We hoped to visit the school several times to support the sustainability of their project.
From a program perspective, the most exhilarating part of the job is seeing results, but it can take time and patience to get there. Sometimes we can come up with new and out-of-the-box ideas and think to ourselves, “It will either soar to new heights or crash and burn.” We are happy to say that in Beausoleil First Nation, we took flight!
The first sign of success was during a trivia game we used as a review during the workshop series. The students’ correct answers were faster than the speed of light shooting straight at us through the interwebs. Feelings of relief and excitement hit us with every flash of knowledge as answers came in about the content and context of water health and the tools we shared.
These were students that were listening even though we couldn’t see them at times through our video chat. This was just one of the challenges we faced with virtual program delivery, but seeing the students thrive, triumphed over all the doubts and fears we may have faced; doubts rooted in unknown questions, which the class navigated with us gracefully.
In February 2021, to mark the end of the program, the students created a final presentation that summarized their learning; this was the true evidence of success for us. In this project, the group said “[they] learned what a watershed is and how pollution travels through it.” The knowledge they shared as a result of our programming was a huge inspiration to us. Not only did they know how to take measurements in a water sample, they knew what they were measuring and why it might be important. Knowledge is the first step in making a difference to the watershed, and as the class put it, “We learned these water testing skills and information so we can be better community members and protect the health of our water and local fish.”
Thanks to the Ontario Trillium Foundation and their flexibility on COVID-related timelines, the work in Beausoleil was a huge success and helped us to make significant roots for continued collaboration.
We were honoured to be welcomed back to the community for a summer learning project and to the school for the 2021/2022 school year. Our summer learning project resulted in 9 grade 8 students earning their grade 9 geography credit over the summer before their grade 9 year started. Water First is excited to continue to work in Beausoleil as long as the community will have us. However, with the promise these students have shown they won’t need us for long because they will be taking over themselves!