Graduates of the University of British Columbia (UBC) NITEP program in Bella Coola celebrated with the community on Tuesday, Aug. 8 at Acwsalcta School with a meal and graduation ceremony.
The students were enrolled in the program over that last five years and were able to take all the courses in the community or online.
Students who completed the bachelor of education program are Loretta Mack, Georgina Jeffrey, Cathy Robson, Lorianne Duran, Trudy Andy, Chanal Wynja, Dana Mack, Roxanne George, Crystal Rain Harry, Trevis Mack, Stella Stump, Foster Walkus, Nedeea Siwallace, Chiotin Alphonse and Tim Michalchuk.
Georgina Jeffrey told Coast Mountain News she enjoyed the program, especially the fourth year because many professors from UBC travelled to Bella Coola to teach the students.
“It was such an eye-opener having so many diverse types of teaching from the different professors,” she said. “I told them it is very important that they do that for all of their programs in communities.”
Originally from Hazelton, Jeffrey is Gitxsan.
As a child she attended John Field Elementary School in Hazelton, although in recent years it has been renamed Majagaleehl Gali Aks Elementary School, which means “flowers of the rivers,” in Gitxsan.
John Field, who the school was originally named after, was the Anglican minister who lived in the area in the late 1890s.
It was her father’s silviculture business that brought the family to Nuxalk territory when Jeffrey was a teenager.
She attended high school in the Bella Coola Valley.
After high school she moved to Kamloops but after 20 years decided she did not want to live in the city anymore so she relocated to Bella Coola.
For several years she was working as an educational assistant.
At one point she wondered what her future held and was wanting more for her career.
“Fortunately for me, the NITEP program was announced in a newsletter so I applied and was accepted. I had credentials from taking the community and school support program in the early 2000s when we were in Kamloops so I did not need to do any upgrading.”
Jeffrey will be the Grade 2 teacher at Acwsaltca School this year and is excited.
She is familiar with the school because she did a three-month practicum there.
“I really enjoyed watching the students learn their numeracy and literacy,” she said.
Part of her practicum was also spent with the cultural staff at the school which meant she got to see “the other side” of what the school offers and the connections that children at the school make with their Indigenous culture.
“Culture is also a very important part of education, as much as academics” she said.
Describing herself as a member of the sandwich generation, Jeffrey said while being a student she was juggling a lot.
She cares for her 80-year-old dad , has three children in their 20s and two younger ones who are eight and five.
When she was super busy with school she arranged for her brothers to come up from Vancouver to help her out with looking after their dad, she said.
With school only a couple of weeks away, Jeffrey is excited to get into her classroom to prepare for the school year.
Graduate Trudy Andy in an emailed response noted graduating from the NITEP program was amazing.
“Finishing with a bachelor’s of education is an understatement, the real reward is having the classroom full of students that become family.”
She said to have had this educational journey at home with a cohort of friends that became family was wonderful.
“I absolutely loved that I got to take these moments of personal growth and achievement in my hometown of Bella Coola. The bonus is my daughter Shylii got to see me overcome my struggles of grief and loss to spending endless hours working of assignments. She also got to see my partner, her father Foster support me every step of the way.”
Andy also thanked her father Vince, mom Elise, brother Ray, her late sister Sophia and her daughters Charity, Dolores, Brandy, and Kashlyn who showed their support to her.
“My grandparents Lorna and Sandy Bull and Billy and Roseanne Andy for persuading me to be get an education for our people, as to be Nuxalkulmc is our greatest strength.”
She also thanked the teachers that taught the courses locally or online, from UBC-NITEP, NVIT, and UFV.
“A shout-out to Nuxalk Acwsalcmalslayc Academy of Learning Society and Lip’alhayc College for sponsoring the program to come to Bella Coola. Best of luck to those who choose to continue their educational journey near or far.”
Eleanor Schooner received an honorary degree from NITEP for her dedication, support for others and commitment to her community and a certificate from Nuxalk College for incorporating traditional Nuxalk knowledge in all aspects of her learning.
“I am 75 years young,” she said. “I have been enrolled in the NITEP courses for the last four years.”
In a previous interview, Holly Poell a teacher at Acwsalcta School who has also been a faculty advisor and student support for the NITEP program said the graduates will have lots of options because the Bella Coola area has been short-staffed for teachers in the last three years.