Schedule changes at Yukon school aim to give students more time on the land

·3 min read
Ruth Johnny cleans some fish while students from Beaver Creek and Whitehorse look on, at Pickhandle Lake last fall. Heidi Warren, the principal at Beaver Creek's Nelnah Bessie John school, says the school has been trying to get kids outdoors as much as possible. (Paul Tukker/CBC - image credit)
Ruth Johnny cleans some fish while students from Beaver Creek and Whitehorse look on, at Pickhandle Lake last fall. Heidi Warren, the principal at Beaver Creek's Nelnah Bessie John school, says the school has been trying to get kids outdoors as much as possible. (Paul Tukker/CBC - image credit)

The school in Beaver Creek, Yukon, will adjust its calendar this year to give students more time for learning outside the classroom.

The five students at Nelnah Bessie John School will head back to class sooner, in early August, but take more breaks throughout the school year.

The breaks will each be about a week long, and are spaced out throughout the year, which wraps up in mid-June.

Heidi Warren, the school's principal, said the changes are designed in part to give students more time outside of summer to get out on the land with their families.

Paul Tukker/CBC
Paul Tukker/CBC

"Over the years, we have developed pretty solid on-the-land camps and learning. And our elders here, especially Ruth and David Johnny, have been incredibly supportive," she said.

"It's also important for families to be able to do that, if they so choose, on their own, when it's not within the school structure."

Breaks are timed to give kids a rest from the classroom, but also to allow time for traditional activities, like hunting and storytelling.

Students will still have the same amount of classroom time throughout the year, but it will be more spread out, and the summer break will be shorter, Warren said. The year will be bookended by two on-the-land camps in August and June.

Decision made with community

Warren said the decision came with input from families and White River First Nation chief and council.

"Everybody was quite open and excited about trying something different," she said, noting that the school's small size can help with decision making; there are just five students from three different families.

"We're basically a family, is what it feels like," Warren said.

Paul Tukker/CBC
Paul Tukker/CBC

In a news release Monday, White River First Nation Chief Bessie Chass√© said the community had been seeking similar changes for a long time.

Warren said the changes are possible this year because the school is now part of the First Nation School Board, which allows for more flexibility. The school must still meet the requirements laid out under the Yukon's Education Act.

Melissa Flynn, interim executive director of the First Nation School Board, said the move is welcome.

"This is the first spring that we were able to enter into community, the school teams and the First Nation governments and ask for them to create their own school calendar, and what would that look like honouring traditional hunting and gathering times of the year," Flynn said.

More on-the-land learning has been a priority for the First Nation School Board since it took control of eight schools in the fall of 2022.

"It's just making sure that we as an education system respect those times and respect that our families, our grandmothers, our grandfathers, our aunties, and our uncles play a really big part in our education," Flynn said.

Three more schools have voted to join the First Nation School Board this coming school year. Flynn says other schools under the board may choose to make similar schedule alterations depending on needs in their communities.

For Beaver Creek students, Warren says this year's schedule will be a trial run, and could be tweaked again next year depending on feedback.