Lakeview School expands language immersion program

M’Chigeeng’s Lakeview School on a sunny September day. photo by Lori Thompson

School also returns to standard calendar for 2019-2020

M’CHIGEENG – Lakeview School in M’Chigeeng First Nation has expanded Ngwaaganak, its Anishinaabemowin immersion program, to include an additional grade in this school year.

“The Ngwaaganak program is a holistic approach to learning that benefits the learner and all their gifts,” said M’Chigeeng First Nation Ogimaa-kwe Linda Debassige.

The immersive Ngwaaganak program began as an initiative designed for M’Chigeeng students who used to be a part of the Mnidoo Mnising Anishinabek Kinoomaage (MMAK) Anishinaabemowin immersion school but also provided a reinvented education model for current Lakeview School students. 

The students in the program decided on the name “Ngwaaganuk,” which means ‘many rainbows.’ They said this was a reflection of the learners in the program.

Learning styles as part of Ngwaaganak include inquiry-based, holistic, experimental and integrated learning. It is rooted in the Reggio Emilia approach, one that prioritizes relationship-driven environments and allows students to choose some of their own learning paths.

The educational instruction and progress assessments are deeply tied to Indigenous education practices that have emerged through research by Indigenous scholars.

“Students are in their English program in the morning, then they transfer in the afternoon to the immersion program where they have a teacher that’s a language speaker and also an (Ontario-College-of-Teachers-registered) teacher. They team-teach,” said M’Chigeeng First Nation’s interim director of education Kelly Crawford.

She said the tandem approach allows for educational opportunities for both students and faculty because non-Anishinaabemowin-speaking teachers can pick up language skills alongside the students. Some of the Ontario-College-of-Teachers-registered teachers at Lakeview School are already language-speakers.

This year’s expansion moves the age set from a Kindergarten to Grade 4 program to one that also includes Grade 5. There are currently 46 students enrolled in Ngwaaganak of the 142 total student population according to Ms. Crawford, meaning 35 percent of Lakeview School students are involved with the immersive program.

The school runs four immersion classes: Junior Kindergarten, a Senior Kindergarten/Grade 1 split and two more split-level classes for Grades 2/3 and 4/5.

“M’Chigeeng First Nation has had a commitment to language learning for many years. We are always trying to find creative ways to support language development. The Ngwaaganak program will continue to be developed over time with feedback from elders, community, parents, teachers, Indigenous scholars and most importantly, our students,” said Ogimaa-kwe Debassige.

A press release about the program expansion adds that through community participation and outreach, students will be able to continuously learn in areas including language, culture, traditions and history.

Students not taking part in this program still have a regular Ojibwe language class as part of their curriculum; immersion students receive additional instruction in other subjects in the language.

An additional change to the school year at Lakeview for this season was the loss of its balanced school year, a model where students begin school three weeks earlier in the summer. It started at Lakeview in 2007 and enabled mid-week early dismissals when teachers took part in professional development workshops and language classes. There were also two separate week-long breaks throughout the year, with breaks coming every nine to 10 weeks.

Ms. Crawford said that the decision was made through community consultation, the results of which indicated a desire to not continue with the modified calendar.