A portal has opened at Sk’aadgaa Naay Elementary.
So far this fall, students are using it to meet with polar bear scientists, chat with a pumpkin farmer, and trade Xaayda Kil phrases with other Indigenous language learners.
It’s called Connected North — a new program that uses two-way video conferencing to offer virtual field trips and cultural exchanges.
“It’s a huge network,” says Magdalena Kelly, a Connected North co-ordinator who helps Sk’aadgaa Naay teachers set up the virtual field trips with faraway experts and schools.
Sk’aadgaa Naay was the first B.C. school to join the growing list of 42 northern schools taking part. Other schools include the Ghùch Tlâ Community School in Yukon’s Carcross Tagish First Nation, and the First Nations School of Toronto.
Leighann Roger, the principal and a teacher at Sk’aadgaa Naay, said some events are pre-planned by Connected North, like the meet-up with polar bear scientists in Churchill, Manitoba.
Others come from teachers or the students themselves. Teacher Martin Favreau suggested the Indigenous language exchange, and it was Sk’aadgaa Naay’s Grade 3 class who wanted to chat with a pumpkin farmer ahead of Halloween. Warren McIntyre, an art teacher at Gudangaay Tlaats’gaa Naay, suggested a future session with Haida artist Corey Bulpitt.
Other schools have done cooking classes with Chef David Wolfman, an expert in wild game and Indigenous cuisine, even spoken with an astronaut aboard the International Space Station.
Geared for students in Grades 1 to 8, the service has also been used to hold teacher-training sessions and career fairs. People can connect with the schools so long as they have a laptop and internet connection.
At a video meeting with Magdalene Kelly held during the October school board meeting, two of Haida Gwaii’s newly elected school trustees, Patrick Moores and Roeland Denooij, asked the program’s cost and continuity.
Kelly said between the audio-video system, made by Cisco, and staffing, each school set-up costs about $80,000, and each session is another $100 to $150.
But besides the staff time to help set it up, the program comes at no cost to the school district, thanks to the non-profit charity TakingITGlobal, which runs Connected North, and to sponsors that include Cisco Systems, TELUS, the All Nations Trust, the federal government, several Canadian banks, and others.
Kelly said schools that sign up for Connected North are guaranteed three years of sessions, and several schools have already had it longer.
“As long as the students are getting a lot of value from it, we’ll try to keep it going,” Kelly said.
“Basically, the world is your oyster.”