Several teachers and organizations in the North have won awards from the Canadian government and from the Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication, for their role in the education system.
The Prime Minister's Awards span three categories including Teaching Excellence, Teaching Excellence in STEM and Excellence in Early Childhood Education. Recipients either received a national Certificate of Excellence or a regional Certificate of Achievement.
They are the highest awards for teachers and preschool educators in Canada.
Kim Ivanko, who teaches at École Boréale school in Hay River for the past 14 years, is among those winners. She teaches English from Grades 3 to 12.
"It's a huge honour to be recognized as one of the top teachers across Canada," Ivanko said. "I myself work with an amazing group of teachers. So I find it quite incredible that I would stand out amongst so many others and my colleagues and peers that are equally deserving of the award."
Ivanko says she found out last Friday and was surprised to hear the news. She said her whole family was supportive.
"My mom cried," she said.
A statement from the school district describes Ivanko as an "essential resource" for her work as a coach and leader of the LGBTQS+2 program.
"She is without a doubt an exceptional person," the statement says.
In addition to coordinating school trips and finding her students pen pals in Japan, Ivanko recently launched a debate club for students at École Boréale.
"I think it gives them just a different opportunity to be engaged in a school environment and atmosphere. It gives students another outlet to explore their potential and their interests, and maybe they will become passionate about it," Ivanko said.
Excellence in early childhood education
In Nunavut, Leah Kippomee, the manager at Pirurvik Preschool in Pond Inlet, is one of the 2020 recipients of the Prime Minister's Awards for Excellence in Early Childhood Education.
"I'm very honoured and I'm shocked," she said.
Kippomee is relatively new to teaching, having graduated with her diploma in April 2018. She has been with the preschool ever since.
"I love working with children," she said. "They're not judgmental. They're willing to learn, makes it worthwhile. They're our future, they're very important to me."
On the award's webpage, Kippomee is described as an adored community child caregiver "who advocates for early childhood education across Nunavut, and who shares a child-centred approach based on traditional knowledge and enriched with Montessori materials and practices."
In addition to Kippomee and Ivanko, Carolyn Matthews at Paul William Kaeser High School in Fort Smith, N.W.T., won a regional certificate of achievement in teaching. Jennifer Kravitz from Yellowknife's N.J. MacPherson School also won a regional certificate of achievement in early childhood education.
National awards came with $5,000 cash prizes and regional awards came with $1000 prizes. Each recipient also receives a letter and a certificate signed by the Prime Minister.
Northerners sweep environmental awards
Northern educators were also honoured at the Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication (EECOM) 2020 Awards of Excellence.
The awards recognize educators and organizations that have helped advance environmental learning, ensure Canadians are "environmentally literate," and contribute to a healthy and sustainable future.
Chloe Dragon Smith and Wendy Lahey from Yellowknife won in the category of Outstanding Early Childhood Educators. The pair are co-founders of Bushkids, a land-based education program for children that connects Indigenous knowledge with Western learning systems and worldviews.
A release from EECOM calls Bushkids a "shining example of how land-based early childhood education should be done in the N.W.T, across Northern Canada, and beyond."
Andrea Brazeau from Kangiqsualujjuaq, Que., won Outstanding Youth Action Leader. Brazeau is Inuk and incorporates her culture into her education practice by sharing Inuit legends, throat singing and drum dancing, conversations with elders, and land-based programming.
Nuna School in Apex, Nunavut won in the category Outstanding K-12 Class, School, or School District. The school is the first tundra land-based kindergarten to Grade 2 school program in Canada, where students are out learning on the land every day.
Lastly, Ikaarvik, a youth research program started in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, won Outstanding Youth Action Organization. The program encourages Inuit and northern First Nations youth to explore ways that Indigenous knowledge and western science can work together.