Jessica Barbour and Aldona Dziedziejko, teachers at the Mezi Community School in Whati, have started a handful of initiatives to improve student engagement and attendance.

Photo courtesy of Aldona Dziedziejko.
Quinton Bishop, left, learns guitar from teacher Jessica Barbour. With the new and up and running recording studio, students like Bishop will have the opportunity to record their own music for credit and non-credit projects at Mezi.

Barbour, seeing an opportunity to help her students develop life skills, opened a small student run canteen for staff and students looking to get their caffeine fix.

The students have been making their own baked goods, fixing drip coffee and lattes; a hot-ticket item at the canteen, she said.

“I was looking for something that would enable the older students practice life skills they might need in the future like making coffee, using an oven, handling money and things like that,” said Barbour.

The canteen is run by 10 junior high and high school students during scheduled what-ever-is-needed time and currently only open to staff and students.

Barbour hopes this initiative will not only help improve engagement, but perhaps inspire students to think about running businesses of their own.

“Certainly there is a bit of motivational issues with some students but it certainly increased their motivation to come on time and they’re really enjoying it,”said Barbour.
Barbour and the students have been making due with what they can within the school budget and supplies of her own but hopes the canteen will take off and allow for expansion.

“There’s no funding specifically for this,”said Barbour. “We are certainly open to any local businesses for sponsorship opportunities. It’s something I’m hoping to encourage.”
For the first few weeks, the canteen has proven to be a successful project and Barbour said she is excited to start fresh next school year and continue expanding the initiative.

Recording heritage
Dziedziejko has taken on another initiative of her own at Mezi Community school, introducing a recording studio for student use.

Kyla Simpson holding a coffee, the most popular item at the canteen, next to the schools menu. The canteen is the brain child of teacher Jessica Barbour, but it is student run

After receiving $1,500 in grant money from Rising Youth, a program to help fund youth oriented community projects in Canada, Dziedzdiejko has secured space in the school and
recording equipment for a project she says will help preserve student’s heritage.

“I want to encourage students to preserve their heritage with the studio,”she said. “Not just the heritage of 60 years ago, but the heritage now. They can get creative and record their own songs, mixing new styles and traditional styles of music.”

She hopes to also get community elders interviewed and record their stories and be able to submit them to the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage centre for preservation.

Dziedziejko, who received special training from the NWT Literacy Council to run the equipment, is also planning on opening up the studio to the community next school year.

“The studio is in the centre of the school and the school is the centre of the community,”she said.

“We have a bit of a problem with motivation and attendance here so we want to get people interested in coming to school.

This means it would be open to teens and adults who may not have finished school to work on projects for credits as opposed to having them intimidated with the idea of going back to class.”

There is also the possibility that Mezi Community School could obtain the equipment to run their own radio station, but that project is still in the planning stages and for now just hopes to get a few interviews and songs recorded before the end of the school year.

“Both projects are have us excited and we’re glad to have new ways to engage and bond with our students,”said Dziedziejko.

Brett McGarry

Brett McGarry came to Yellowknife in early 2019 after graduating from Humber College with an advanced diploma in journalism. After covering city council and local business as a reporter, Brett is now an...

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