Referring to it as a momentous occasion, it was a case of coming full circle for University of Saskatchewan College of Education Dean Michelle Prytula.
A decade earlier she had been the principal at the somewhat aging St. Frances Cree Bilingual School in Saskatoon.
On this occasion she was one of a number of participants basking in the culmination of years of hard work with the memorandum of understanding recently signed by Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, Saskatoon Tribal Council and the University of Saskatchewan that officially made St. Frances the home of a Professional Development School.
“So much has changed in the past 10 years and this has morphed into something far greater than anything I could have imagined,” Prytula said.
Although this notion has been a pipe dream for a long time, St. Frances principal Darren Fradette explained that once the aforementioned partner organizations struck their original steering committee, the model was launched at the start of the current school year.
Fradette outlined how the school facilitates the collaboration of partners to enhance shared professional learning, community engagement and innovation.
“This is a relationship based on reciprocity. It supports teacher candidates, practicing teachers and most importantly, by helping new and experienced teachers to develop practical and evidence-based strategies to teach all students, particularly First Nations and Métis students, and help these students improve in all areas.”
Fradette noted that teachers in training and experienced teachers working together to link theory and practice are a perfect fit for broadening understanding of Indigenous cultures and students.
“These goals and strategies are achieved by teacher candidates being taught on-site at St. Frances, where they have opportunities for instruction within a university class; opportunities to be in classrooms observing, facilitating and teaching lessons in classrooms; and opportunities to collaborate and work with classroom teachers.”
Fradette outlined how three university classes have been on-site at the school this year with the potential for more collaboration with school staff in the future to bridge theory and practice while working together to better meet the needs of each student. He also suggested that the teacher candidates from the Indian Teacher Education Program serve as excellent role models for the students.
“While still in its infancy, this truly is an example of reciprocity and the benefits to new and experienced teachers and students, are inevitable,” he added.
Prytula said her involvement in the program has served to focus on what is most important in the process, adding that “this is such an important initiative to maintain because there’s so much potential and it’s an example of wonderful things happening here. The reason it works so well are the partnerships and we all benefit from that and we can grow together.”
Diane Boyko, chairperson of Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, stressed the importance of the partnership model, which she said is already bearing fruit and is helping to better equip students for the future while being the beneficiaries of a responsive, supportive environment.
Chief Felix Thomas of Saskatoon Tribal Council pointed out that 10 years ago there were 70 or so students and now the school houses 600 plus, which he said highlights the need for a new facility. “We need programs like this to give our teachers the experience and confidence so that they will be able to teach anywhere. They need the tools they can gain from this program.”
One of the teacher candidates to whom he was referring was Jayce Sutherland, who spent the past year as one of those working at St. Frances.
Scheduled to graduate from the ITEP program in June, she spoke of the supportive environment she had experienced at St. Frances while also pointing out that she has three of her own children attending classes there while the youngest attends the school daycare centre.
“I didn’t know exactly what to expect but it was a great experience and I am graduating because of my kids. This program gives an opportunity for parents to take part in their children’s education and it embraces Indigenous culture which is very important to me. As I taught, I learned, and I’m proud of what we have done already and it gives me hope for my children’s future. I value this as a parent and as an educator and it has given me purpose,” Sutherland concluded.