If you have an opportunity to walk through the hallways of St. Anne’s Elementary in Conne River during recess break or while the students are on their way to classes, you might hear them speaking to each other in the Mi'kmaq language.
This is due in large part to the dedication and creativity of Angela Christmas, the Mi'Kmaq language teacher at the school who has a strong passion for the language that she developed from her father who is fluent in the Mi'Kmaq language.
Ms. Christmas has developed the Klusuaqnn Witatikn Home Reading Program for her pre-Kindergarten to Grade six classes that is helping her students learn words and phrases from the Mi'Kmaq language. The Home Reading Program, which began in January of this school year, has already gathered a tremendous interest from her students and their parents/guardians.
Christmas aid that she developed the program to increase the children's knowledge of the language and to help parents as students bring the language home to read to their parents who, in turn, are learning the language as well.
"I was seeing a break in the connection between the home, parents and their children in learning the language, so I wanted to find a way to bridge that gap," Christmas said. "I wanted to make that connection between the children learning the language and sharing the language with the parents without putting any stress on them as adults have difficulty with the language themselves. This program reduces that stress and is a win-win situation for both students and their parents/guardians."
The Home Reading Program developed by Christmas is very simple yet extremely effective.
She said, "The children have their own reading books which consists of words and phrases that they come up with on their own. I add a few of the essential language components like basic conversation skills but, overall, the program contains words/phrases the children want to learn.
"We practice the words before the list goes home to the parents so that the students know how to pronounce the words. We practice the words over several classes and when the students feel confident with them they take the list home to read to the parents who have to check off a list that lets me know that they have indeed practiced the words. In this way we are bringing the language home to the parents through our primary and elementary classes."
The students involved in the reading program are very enthusiastic about learning the language and the parents are very receptive to the program as well.
Christmas said, "The students absolutely embrace this program and are enjoying it very much. I've seen a significant growth in their overall learning of the language, and I'm hearing Mi'Kmaq being spoken in the hallways now even though we just started the program a few months ago. The language is going back into the homes through this program too."
Carmen Benoit said, "I'm getting to learn a new language, and I'm teaching my Mom how to say 'good morning' in Mi'Kmaq. I really enjoy the games and activities we do in this program which makes learning fun."
"We're learning the language of our elders," Cassidy Lambert said, "and about the way our people used to speak."
Joy Northcott said, "I'm learning new words and phrases from our culture, and I'm sharing this knowledge with my parents and my brother Dylan, who is also teaching my parents."
Riley John gave a good example of how the language is being spread by students involved in the program.
Riley said, "I drove my sister, who's in Pre-Kindergarten, out of my room several days ago and she was saying Miskai, Miskai. I asked her what that meant and she said, it means I'm sorry. I didn't know that word before."
Carmen, Cassidy, Joy and Riley are grade four students at St. Anne's.
As noted, the program is also reducing the stress parents felt in learning the Mi'Kmaq language previously.
Jodi Stride said, "The Mi'Kmaq home work word list used to be very intimidating because I was never really sure if I was pronouncing the words correctly. Now, it is actually fun to do this with my child who is very confident in his work and enjoys teaching me the language."
Colleen Lambert, who had a child go through the elementary program at St. Anne's about 10 years ago, said, "My daughter is currently in grade four and is really enjoying the activity. The difference in her ability to speak Mi'Kmaq from my first child is significant and amazing. Cassidy speaks the aboriginal language exceptionally well and is teaching me words and phrases on a weekly basis."
Christmas said that most children in the program have learned about 30 words since January and that her goal is to have them learn at least 100 by the end of the current school year. Before the program, students were learning less than 10 words a month from a prescribed list of words.
"My ultimate goal with the program is to have the students combine the words they are learning into sentences and writing which will really help keep the Mi'Kmaq language alive and vibrant in this community and wherever these students may travel in the future. It's important to me that we keep this language alive, and if this program helps in that cause then it will have been worth all the work we've put into it and will keep adding to it in the future."