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Cross-country programs build individual success with team approach

Athletes who compete in cross-country running finish their race with an individual time, but for the hundreds of Saskatoon Public Schools elementary and high school students who compete in cross country each fall the sport is all about being part of a team.

"Every member of the team matters, a value that is reinforced daily in practice and in all team messaging. Team members encourage and support each other in workouts and in competition whether they are at the front of the pack or at the back," said Janet Christ, one of the coaches of the Walter Murray Collegiate team that captured its 12th city championship in 13 years and then added a provincial team title.

"The team philosophy is centred on team success and on individuals achieving their personal success, whatever that may be. Each experience is a learning experience from which the athlete grows physically, mentally and emotionally."

Cross country is part of the extracurricular program at many of the division's elementary and high schools. Runners receive their introduction to the sport as early as Grade 4 and have their first opportunity to compete as part of the city-wide elementary meets.

"We are very proud of our runners. At a cross-country meet with elementary students there are thousands of children everywhere, there are parents, grandparents, coaches pulling their hair out and there is great excitement," said Tammy Wilson, coach of the Willowgrove School team that included 80 runners from Grade 4-8.

"We sell it to them as hard work: 'This is going to be hard for you. This takes a lot of effort.' They come out and they are excited to be there and to show that they can work hard and they can put effort into things."

Extracurricular sports such as cross country provide student-athletes of any age with a number of benefits. Increasing fitness, building skill level and gaining new friends from different classes and grades are some of the benefits. Wilson says many teachers report that students are also more focused and ready for learning following a training run.

For Mya McKinnon, a Grade 8 student at Willowgrove, the opportunity to train and compete paid off in the classroom and in building leadership skills by leading warmups and helping the younger runners.

"I really enjoyed the training and it helped me focus in my classes later on during the days we practiced," she said. "Something that I found truly amazing with these younger runners is that nobody judged anyone. Everyone ran at their own pace and they were super supportive of each other. We were all part of a team but we still set our own goals."

Wilson and Christ share a firm conviction that emphasizing a team approach to an individual sport offers opportunities and benefits for their athletes. By instilling and reinforcing the message that every member of the team matters athletes come together to encourage and support each other during training and competition.

Cindy Li, a Grade 12 student at Walter Murray, said the sense of community among the group of runners ranging from Grade 9 newcomers to senior students was built not only through training and competition, but through team potluck meals and other fun events.

"Cross-country is more than just a sport to me," she said. "It is what I look forward to every single day after school and it was the favourite part of my day. It wasn't necessarily running that I love . . . but it was the team that I loved because I loved to make new friends and share this experience together.

"When you have the right team environment you have athletes who want to be there and who have a positive attitude and who have the self-belief that they can achieve their goals and dreams. Those are the athletes who have success. "

WMCI_cc_news2.jpgThe success of the Walter Murray team was built from a small foundation of fewer than 10 participants back in 2000. It has grown to the point where more than 70 students were a part of the program in 2017 when the team's history of strong performances at the city level translated into a provincial title.

Christ credits the program's success to a dedicated coaching staff and the contributions of athletes from previous years who helped build a tradition and culture that allows current athletes to learn, grow and push themselves beyond their limits.

"Every athlete contributes, every athlete matters," she said. "Though we strive for success at the heart of our team lies the precept that athletes should be running for the fun of it and the joy of being with one another. Winning has just been a bonus."

Drabble, Rodney J. (Rod)11/9/2017 9:24 AM
Writing on the Hill project lets students share stories, build skills

cesept24_news.jpgA unique writing project that allowed students of all ages to share their stories helped Pleasant Hill Community School students see themselves as writers and build their literacy skills.

The Writing on the Hill project saw every student in pre-kindergarten to Grade 8 create a piece of writing and illustration that was compiled into a classroom book. Students learned how to share their stories, strengthen their writing skills and discovered more about their classmates.

"With this project I learned how to describe things that I didn't know before," Emily Peepeetch, a Grade 7 student at Pleasant Hill during the 2016-17 school year, told a Saskatoon Board of Education

"Before the project my writing sentences were simple but then Mary Bishop read my work and told me to describe with more details. She asked me about colours and how things looked, so I added some descriptive words to make it more interesting. I also improved using punctuation and when two characters are speaking to each other. Overall, I thought the project helped me become a better writer."

cesept25_news3.jpgThe project was led by Pleasant Hill teacher Lloyd Laliberte and Mary Harelkin Bishop, a Saskatoon Public Schools literacy consultant and author, and included involvement from the entire teaching staff as part of the school-wide project. A grant from Dakota Dunes Development Corp. and support from Globe Printers allowed for the publishing of the book and provided a copy for each student.

"We were talking about why our students at Pleasant Hill were struggling to write and how we were having difficulty motivating and engaging them. We came to realize that they really didn't see themselves as writers. The question became: How can we help our students see themselves as writers?" Harelkin Bishop explained.

"We thought: what if we got the whole school involved so that from pre-K all the way to Grade 8 everybody was writing? It became our dream and we decided that each class would produce its own book so each student could see a piece of their writing and an illustration in that book."

Each classroom selected a theme and students engaged in the writing process with leadership from their teachers and Harelkin Bishop, who visited each class to talk about writing and being an author.

Students in Brad Gryba's Grade 6-7 class began with picture prompt. They discussed how pictures can tell a story and then each student worked at pulling their own story from the image.

"I found it really helpful to get their fluency up. Giving them an open-ended prompt like that didn't restrain them in what they could talk about or what kind of story they could tell," said Gryba, who was excited by his students' response to the project and the opportunity to see their work in a published form.

"It really encouraged them and made sure they put their best foot forward and did their best work. In previous assignments during the year I thought I had seen what was their best effort — their best work in writing — but given this opportunity to be a published author and to have some feedback from an author along the way really motivated them."

Student Soe Ka Kaw Naw said Writing on the Hill gave her and her classmates the opportunity to learn about the process involved in publishing a book while also improving their writing skills.

"I worked with my teacher Mr. Crowe and he helped me fix things to make my writing more interesting. There was lots to learn about editing before I could publish the book," she said. "I like that we got to choose our own topic for the book. We got to choose something from our own memory so I knew what to write. I also learned how to draw the picture of the school that would go with my story."

Turning individual classroom writing projects into published work is not unique, but the opportunity to include all of the school's students was something that excited students, families and staff members, said Principal Lisa Hynes.

"It was very collaborative right from the start and our students had a voice in making decisions about what they were going to write about," she said. "The teachers brainstormed with the kids and it's because they had some choice that they were really excited. Our younger students just couldn't believe that their work was going to be published, that their words, their illustrations were going to be in a book. They wanted to be part of something like that."

Hynes said the project required teamwork and brought friends and classmates together. Staff would overhear conversations between students talking about what they were writing about. It provided students with an opportunity to think about writing in different ways by exposing them to a variety of genres and gave them a chance to consider their voice, their audience and being an author.

"I was speaking to one student in Grade 8 and she was explaining to me that when she usually does writing assignments the writing is for herself or her teacher, and she is used to that. But in this case she really had to think about what other people are going to think about her work and the writing she has done. She wouldn't have gained that perspective had it not been writing that she was going to have published."

Putting their learning into action and having a published book as a symbol of their success engaged students and provided them with a deeper understanding of themselves as learners, Hynes said.

"I think the project gave our students more confidence in their writing. The students always speak about being wonderful readers. We assess their reading regularly, we talk lots about interventions for reading and this moved into their writing abilities," she said.

"It built up their confidence. They felt good about it and it really did have a big impact here on learning for our students."

Drabble, Rodney J. (Rod)11/8/2017 1:13 PM
Teacher Nancy Barr receives recognition from human rights groups

CE_June 20_news1.jpgWhen Nancy Barr meets her new class of students for the first time each September she embarks on a building project.

Barr, a teacher at Brevoort Park School, believes in the importance of constructing a community within her classroom and in helping students to be engaged not only in their school, but also in the wider community that makes up their city, province and country.

"I start my year and I end my year building community," she said. "In the classroom we are, every day, a community of learners. We are a team, we talk team all the time. We do things together."

In recognition for her efforts in building both students and community, Barr was honoured by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission and the Think Good Do Good organization as a teacher who embodies qualities of understanding, compassion and leadership in the classroom.

"I believe what I do is what should be done in the classroom every day," Barr told trustees during the June 20 Board of Education meeting. "I believe kids should be treated with respect. I think that kids should know what a citizen is, that they should know how to grow a community and that they should be respected for what they have to say about their community and what they have to do to change their community."

Her work as part of a team that developed a new citizenship pedagogy in conjunction with the human rights commission illustrates Barr's personal investment in community, said Chief Commissioner Judge David Arnot, and her commitment to the classroom and building capacity and resilience in students makes her a teacher worthy of recognition.

"She is a champion for human rights and good citizenship, she is making the world a better place one student at a time. She is a teacher of excellence and she is a good example because there are so many teachers of excellence that you have in this school division," Arnott said. "Nancy puts the theory into practice in her classroom on a daily basis."

The citizenship pedagogy she helped develop with the commission and others can have an impact on students and, by extension, the entire community, Barr believes. It's an opportunity for both teachers and students to examine their thinking and create a strong learning model for others.

Today's students are the future decision makers, she told trustees. Building students in a community strengthens their spirit, and students who have good spirit are learners, Barr believes. Students who have been able to establish connections have the opportunity to be strong, capable and willing participants within a community.

Arnot said the opportunity to see Barr in action with her Brevoort Park students as well as those from her previous school, Princess Alexandra, created a lasting impression.

"The hallmark of a good teacher is a teacher with passion. Nancy has a passion to teach and a passion to learn and, most important, she is very compassionate toward her students," he said. "She commands respect. She is very firm with students but she is very respectful and she models that respect to her students. You can see it, you can feel it and she, in turn, receives respect."

As a member of a classroom and school community Barr stresses the important of celebrating success, but her definition of success is much more than achievement, it is all about students learning and moving forward together.

"I have kids working as teams together and it could be something as simple as stopping and talking about something and saying 'That didn't work out well as a team, what can you guys do better?' The celebrations are also celebrating that while you weren't perfect as a team we are going to celebrate it and get better. Together we are going to change and conquer and do good things."

Drabble, Rodney J. (Rod)6/30/2017 7:57 AM
Telemedia program offers students opportunity to explore, critique media

CE_June_6_news.jpgWhen elementary school students study media they turn the camera on themselves as part of the Telemedia program offered by Saskatoon Public Schools.

Telemedia provides students with the opportunity to learn about video and media production through a hands-on experience that involves everything from writing scripts, preparing for interviews and developing storyboards, all in advance of a full day of production in the studio located at the Board of Education office.

Darla Erickson, a Grade 8 teacher at Wildwood School, said the program offers a unique perspective and gives students the chance to incorporate writing, acting and technical learning as part of a team approach to the study and critique of marketing and television messaging.

"Telemedia was a phenomenal experience for the students because they were able to see media from the other side of the lens. It was something that I really wanted to bring to them," Erickson said. "I wanted to put all of the parts of the curriculum into this and this program offered that."

Student Lauren Elliotte-Hart said preparation for their time in the Telemedia studio involved a lot of planning in class. The students worked together to create, plan and script their projects ahead of time in order to ensure the best use of their day-long studio experience.

"To be able to attend the Telemedia workshop you had to be able to write a commercial script and a talk show script. We practiced learning these skills at school," she said. "The scripts were written by everyone in the group, combining our ideas to make a whole. Sometimes we had to make choices because our ideas did not fit well together."

The Telemedia program has operated for more than 30 years, moving from video tape to the latest digital production techniques. It is guided by the division's multi-media specialists Rob Kunz and Shawn Monahan, who each year welcome 50 classes comprised of an estimated 1,300 students to the studio and production facility.

Kunz says the most valuable part of Telemedia is the combination of learning and teamwork experienced by students as they fill the various roles required to bring their creative vision to life.

"We always say it is about the process — not the product — and learning how to do it," Kunz said. "It's going to be goofy, there are going to be mess-ups, there is always stuff like that. The process of how it goes together is the big part."

Telemedia control room.jpgTheir time in the Telemedia studio introduced students to the camera, video monitors, sound equipment and other components of in-studio production, as well as the endless creative possibilities provided by the studio's chroma key backdrop, otherwise known as the "green screen."

"During the day at the board office we were amazed and fascinated by the devices used to produce our commercials and talk shows," said student McKenna Schneider. "Many of us did not know how to use the cameras or the software but it was intriguing to learn how. A lot of time and effort goes into a commercial and, honestly, it was a little exhausting to get all of that information into our heads."

Erickson said the varied experience provided by Telemedia allows teachers and students to integrate curricular outcomes with the development of valuable skills in collaborative work, planning and peer feedback.

"We really focused on the English language arts portion," she said. "In this part students were able to create and present a commercial and an interview that portrayed what the outcome was supposed to be and hopefully entertained."

The program also offers students insight into career possibilities, both in front of and behind the camera.

"Overall it was a wonderful experience we had with our classmates and we learned many different things. This experience was worthwhile because it gave us an opportunity to experience the jobs of a producer, actor, camera operator, director, advertiser and more," said student Yuyang Niu, who gained an appreciation for the role of director.

Elliotte-Hart said acting would be her first choice out of all the roles students had to fill as part of their productions, while the technical aspects had the most appeal for Schneider.

 "I would rather work behind the scenes, either with cameras or the monitors, and figuring out which camera is where each time," she said.

All three students say Telemedia has sparked their interest in video production and, according to Elliotte-Hart, also taught a valuable lesson in the importance of preparation and being able to improvise when necessary.

"(You need to) make sure the night before that everybody had everything they needed. I know that my group forgot something really important," she said.

Drabble, Rodney J. (Rod)6/14/2017 2:02 PM
Michif language helps Westmount students connect to Métis culture


Walk in to Westmount Community School and there's a chance you'll be greeted with "Taanishi."

Michif is a language of instruction for students at Westmount, home of Saskatoon Public Schools Métis Cultural Program, and the school's effort in infusing the language through its classroom and cultural learning begins with hello — Taanishi.

"Michif is the language of our people," says Principal Angie Caron. "The Michif people who settled around Saskatoon, such as the Round Prairie Michif, brought this language and their cultural traditions from the Red River in Manitoba.

"The Michif language is born of this land and it is therefore important that it be taught here. If not here on the plains, where it comes from, where else will it be valued and taught?"

Learning to speak Michif and providing learning within the language can be a challenge for both students and teachers. According to Caron, an estimated 90 per cent of Michif people today are unable to have a simple conversation in the language. And, while Michif has a long history as an oral language, its written form was developed fewer than 20 years ago.

Students and staff at Westmount benefit from the support of a few Michif speakers in and around Saskatoon who are willing to share their gift of language, particularly Norman Fleury whose support of the school and community in teaching the language and providing translations has been invaluable.

"Our work is made possible because of their strong commitment to keeping the language and the cultural traditions alive for future generations," Caron said.

The use of Michif as a component of student learning is done in a number of ways that build upon the oral tradition of the language while looking for new opportunities for students to express themselves.

"At Westmount Community School not only are we learning the oral tradition of Michif language, but we are doing something that has never been done before," says teacher Chandrelle Micklewright. "With Norman's translation we are actually teaching our students to read in Michif, which really helps with their phonemic awareness. It is making those connections."

Westmount is a diverse cultural community that includes many new Canadian students and families. While Michif has an important role within the school and the Métis Cultural Program, there is a recognition of the importance of the home languages and culture of all students.

"I think all cultural languages are important and we do a wonderful job of honouring that," Micklewright said. "We have a very diverse group of students and that is important. The one thing that Auntie Fay (staff member Fay Maurice) has instilled in us is that we want all of our children to have a sense of pride with their own culture and their own language, so we often have children share that with us as well."

The relative newness of written Michif can mean challenges, but it also provides opportunities to develop and lead in language instruction.

"The linguists, along with people like Norman, have written it using English phonetics, but it does have its own sounds that really aren't English sounds or French sounds or Cree sounds. We have developed a chart of consonant and vowels to provide the sounds to allow people to read the language," says Maurice.

Micklewright and Maurice are among the staff who are becoming more fluent in Michif and their contributions through co-teaching with classroom teachers and sharing the importance of infusing instruction with the language plays a significant role in strengthening the presence of Michif in all of the school's classrooms.

"You can imagine trying to build the capacity for the Michif language in a whole school," Caron says. "Right now we have students in kindergarten to Grade 4 getting that time with Auntie Chandy (Micklewright) and Auntie Fay in the actual classroom few times a week. Then we have students in the senior grades where they go in and support their classroom teacher in the learning that goes on in their classroom."

"We want to make sure that when teachers leave Westmount School that they can go out to whatever school they are going to and share that infusion of Métis content and perspectives."

Through their efforts, Westmount staff hope that Michif and the Métis culture will be an important part of the lives of students, their families and the entire school community.

Drabble, Rodney J. (Rod)5/30/2017 2:01 PM