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Waabgon Gamig: Excellence in Early Childhood Education and Teaching on Georgina Island First Nation

Tanya Leary

Four years ago, the Georgina Island Indian Day School, located within the York Region District School Board, officially became the Waabgon Gamig First Nation School. Waabgon Gamig means “Blossoming House,” and the school has indeed seen the majority of its students blossom. Outstanding student life, multi-literacy approaches, collective and cultural norms, professional practice, and a special program called the Junior Kindergarten Transition Program could be the reasons behind the success realized by the students in this tiny First Nation.

The little red two-room schoolhouse is located on the main road of Georgina Island, which is in the middle of Lake Simcoe and accessible only by ferry, airboat, or ice road. The school is joined to the public library, which makes it a centre of community life. It employs two teachers (seconded from York Region District Board), a team leader, a child and youth worker, an educational assistant, a Native-language teacher and a part-time secretary.

Georgina Island has a population of approximately 250 residents, and was established by the federal government in the late 1800s. There are 23 students in the entire school, which houses two multigrade classrooms: the first a grade SK-2 and the second a grade 3-5. Just a few metres down the road from the school is the Niigaan Naabiwag Child Care Centre. This is where many students begin their developmental journey, ending up in the full-day, every-day senior kindergarten early learning program.

The daycare and the kindergarten classrooms are two places where the educational magic happens. For the past four years, students in the Junior Kindergarten Transition Program have achieved so much, both socially and academically.

On Monday morning, the students of Waabgon Gamig First Nation School begin their week together in a circle. A smudge bowl burning sage and an eagle feather set the tone for the day, clearing any negative energy. Students hear the daily announcements and sing “O Canada” in English, French, or Ojibwe. Then they make their way to their classrooms, where the emphasis is on building a community of respectful learners. Having cultural content embedded within the curriculum allows students to see a reflection of their identity, one they can be proud of. Their pride of heritage is apparent in the hand-drumming songs, hoop-dancing teachings, Traditional Arts and Ecological Knowledge program, and perhaps most importantly the Native Language program, which begins at the child care centre and continues into high school and university studies. The mother tongue of the Chippewas of Georgina Island is Anishnaabemowin, the Ojibwe language.

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