I was invited to spend a week with the students at Heart Lake KOHLS School, on the Heart Lake First Nation, from February 10-14. The students numbered around 29 total, depending on the day, and ranged in age from 3 to 15. More than half of the kids are high special needs, and the majority are functioning below grade level for various reasons.
The Kindergarten teacher has been teaching at Heart Lake for 30 years, and truly does an amazing job with the kids. Her classroom assistant is one of the senior Elders in the Band, and she has been there for 24 years! The school is licenced from K to 12, but there are no grade 1’s and no grade 5’s in school this year. There are 4 Grade 9s, and they are the oldest kids in the school.
Many of the kids are shy and scared, so the Principal told me that anything I can give them would be great. At this school, when kids hit Grade 7, they can take the bus to the public school in Lac La Biche, but their parents have to approve it. They can go to the town school before Grade 7, but they have to find their own transportation. A few days before I arrived, the local school bus for Heart Lake broke down, which meant that some kids had no way of getting to school, and the others only did if their parents drove them. On the first day, though, there were roughly 7 or 8 kids missing, so about 1/3 of the students were absent. Teachers were willing to drive the kids but, due to liability concerns, it was advised to not do that.
The school has a full time cook, and he is great. He’s been cooking for years and he has 2 mandates from the Band – 1) Never serve leftovers and 2) Make sure there is always enough food for everyone. He makes breakfast and lunch for the kids every day. He buys the groceries so all of the meal planning is done in advance. He tries to have protein in every meal and does his best to incorporate veggies into every meal too (and is starting to do more fruits & veggies for their snacks). It’s a great thing they have for the kids so the kids always have food everyday, no matter if they are getting enough to eat at home or not.
My tentative plan was to introduce myself on Day 1 by giving 3 separate presentations to the students – kindergarten, elementary and middle/high school. As much as I wanted to have a plan, I realized that it was best to have a general idea of my goals and sort of just go with it. I didn’t want to disrupt their days too much and I wanted to make sure that they still had a chance to get as much of their regular work done as possible. I wanted my time with them to be different, special and memorable, so I didn’t want it to be too long or drag on and have them get bored. Next I spoke to the middle and high school kids. They were all very talkative and distracted, but they liked the videos and pictures in my presentation and they asked a lot of questions. Again, the goal of the first day for me was to introduce myself to them so they not only learned more about me but also felt more comfortable with me.
Finally, I spoke to the elementary kids. They were quite energetic and they also had a lot of questions – mostly about Davy Whippet – but they too really enjoyed the photos and videos. I could sense that they were all really great kids so I was excited to get to know them better and spend more time with them.
On Day 2, I decided to incorporate some of the goals that the principal had laid out for me. Instead of doing frisbee with the kids, I decided to do an activity focused on skill identification and development, with a specific goal attached to it. Because I have 5 Guinness World Records, I’m very aware of what it means to set a goal based on a skillset and work towards achieving that goal. I spent some time with each class working on coming up with a specific and unique skill that each student had and then we developed a very specific way to measure each skill and came up with a goal for that student to achieve. Some examples were: Most hockey one timers in one minute (goal is 20), Most hits with a badminton racket in one minute (goal is 20), Most shots stopped in one minute (goal is 20). It took some coaxing but I was able to come up with a skill and a goal for each student. Based on this activity, I was able to come up with a plan for the rest of the week.
I decided that I was going to teach them how to throw, catch and play disc golf on Day 3, that we would practice and get ready for their specific skill on Day 4 and that Day 5 would be a full school event where each student would get up in front of everyone and attempt to set the goal they laid out for themselves on Day 2. I would then film the event and make a highlight video to remind all of the students how capable they all are.
The students had a great time learning to throw and I did some running and catching drills with them which they really enjoyed as well. They had the most fun just playing around, throwing the frisbees back and forth, trying new throws, battling each other for the frisbee and just generally seeing something new for the first time. I really enjoyed the time I spent in the gym just playing with the kids.
On the 5th and final day, each student got up in front of their peers and challenged the original goal they had set for themselves on the second day. With the exception of a few students, each one was able to meet or exceed their goal which was really exciting. I made certificates for all of the students and presented it to them once they had completed their personal challenge. It was a really great experience getting to see each kid do something they enjoy that only a few days before, they had only done for fun and hadn’t thought much more about doing it until I asked them to set a goal for themselves based on that skill.
During the week, I hope that I was able to teach them the value of practice, of goal setting and of recognizing their unique skill based on something that they enjoy to do. It was really great to see them take ownership of something and work hard to achieve that.
I owe this trip to the Principal and Director of Education at the school, David, and to my friend Ruth, who introduced me to David. The educators at the school do a great job but they’re fighting an uphill battle because many parents aren’t that invested in their children’s education. I’ve seen this as a common issue among kids today but I believe that it’s especially important for parents to be involved in their kids’ education in places where the kids are already disadvantaged.
I had an amazing week with the students and staff at Heart Lake and in addition to hopefully passing on and instilling some valuable life lessons in the students, they also helped teach me how to be more patient, understanding, attentive and adaptable to different situations.
I’m looking forward to doing more workshops and presentations like what I did with Heart Lake so if you are interested in finding out more, please visit my Speaking page for all of the information.