Rebecca Plotner has witnessed many changes in the education system from her days as a student in Dettah and, many years later, serving as chair of the community’s district education authority.

“There’s a big difference. I’ve seen a huge shift… especially out in Dettah. It’s a lot more interactive. The students have a lot more say in their education — not to say my education was bad, I feel like the experience was just different and the teachings are different,” she said. “They’re learning different skills (today); they’re learning how to do a lot more research at a younger age.”

Plotner points to a videography project at Kaw Tay Whee School that involved Western Arctic Moving Pictures (WAMP). Students, who number close to 30, researched related audio and video equipment, learned about animation, shooting and editing video and how to do voice-overs.

“They had to pitch their ideas to the teachers and show them their research and what would be best for them. I feel like those are very good transferable skills for when they get older. So it’s a very different learning environment from when I was in school there,” Plotner said.

She has been a member of the school board for close to a decade and has been chair of the DEA for just over half that time.

“I’ve always really put an emphasis on education and schooling and I have a lot of nieces and nephews who still go to school at Kaw Tay Whee School,” she said. “It was a good way for me to be involved in education and my community, and being able to give back to my community, in a way. I think it’s a good opportunity to have a positive impact on the students in our school and being able to oversee the different programs that the school is able to provide — just being there for the youth and the students and our staff.”

Elders have resumed visiting this school year as pandemic measures have subsided. That has led to fish-scale art and studying traditional meats being among recent activities.

“On-the-land initiatives have always been a really high priority for me,” said Plotner, who holds a bachelor of science in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Northern British Columbia.

In teaching the Wiliideh language, the school also goes “above and beyond” the GNWT’s minimum requirements for language programming, she adds.

Plotner offers high praise for the educators at Kaw Tay Whee.

“We’ve got a really good staff,” she said.

She tries to stop by the school every couple of months to provide treats for the students. In some cases, the children have grown food for themselves. They used hydroponic pods and plots in the Dettah community garden to produce vegetables like peppers, carrot and potatoes that are used in the lunch program.

“So it’s really rewarding for them,” said Plotner.

Among special events at Kaw Tay Whee, Plotner said Breakfast with Santa and the associated skits ranks among her favourites. She also enjoys the Super Secret Event at the end of the school year, which always involves surprises for the students that staff have planned in advance.

As the Department of Education undertakes a process of curriculum renewal — transferring from Alberta’s curriculum and associated testing methods to modelling B.C.’s — Plotner expresses support for this new approach.

“It is very much linked to Indigenous teachings as well, and the fact that it’s knowledge-based learning… from our perspective it is a good thing,” she said. “There’s obviously going to be hiccups and there’s going to be things that we all need to work together on, but a lot of the other DEAs and DECs (divisional education councils), we’ve been collaborating pretty well over the past couple of years. I think it will just build that relationship between all of us as we move forward.”

For more stories from Degrees of Success, click here:

Derek Neary

Derek Neary has been reporting on developments in the North for 18 years. When he's not writing for Nunavut News, he's working on Northern News Services' special publications such as Opportunities North,...

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