Historic graduation for Ulukhaktok high school students accepted to university for 1st time
3 students will graduate from Helen Kalvak Elihakvik School and go to university — a 1st for the community
School ends in about two months, and for the community of Ulukhaktok, N.W.T., this year's graduation will be historic.
For the first time in the community's history, three students from Helen Kalvak Elihakvik School are graduating with the required university-level credits needed to pursue their post-secondary education — and two of them have already been accepted.
"I always hoped that I would at least go to college or university, but actually being in the process, getting accepted and applying for residence, is just making it more real," said 17-year-old Matt Kanayok, who has been accepted to Vancouver Island University.
"I'm just super excited."
Kanayok joins Nadine Kuneluk and Jacob Klengenberg in reaching this milestone.
The Grade 12 students said growing up in the hamlet, going to university wasn't something that was often talked about.
Ulukhaktok is an isolated hamlet on the coast of the Arctic Ocean with a population of about 400 people. Generally, schools in isolated, northern communities such as Ulukhaktok don't have the resources to offer all of the classes required for post-secondary education.
The expansion of E-learning in the North
About eight years ago, the Beaufort Delta Education Council came up with a pilot project that allowed one student in the hamlet of Fort McPherson to take classes at Inuvik's East Three Secondary School via teleconference.
That program is now called the Northern Distance Learning Program, also referred to as E-learning, where students connect with a teacher in Inuvik, and other classmates in the territory, through a giant screen, hundreds of kilometres away from each other. The program has now expanded to seven other communities — Tuktoyaktuk, Aklavik, Fort McPherson, Ulukhaktok, Fort Liard, Fort Resolution and Fort Good Hope.
"We've seen a lot of these students start Grade 10 very shy, withdrawn, not quite sure what they are getting themselves into — to these brimming with confidence, self-identified success stories," said Gene Jenks, principal of East Three School.
Before the E-learning program, students who wanted to take classes required for university would either have to move away from their community and become home-boarding students, or do independent study where students are given the course material and teach themselves.
Currently about 35 students across the territory are taking E-Learning classes.
Now, the territory's Department of Education has partnered with East Three School to expand the program to four more communities starting this September — Behchoko, Tulita, Deline and Fort Simpson.
Plans to join RCMP after college
Growing up, Klengenberg said he didn't think university was an option. He thought he would stay in the community to hunt and fish.
"I never imagined that I would have been accepted into a recognized college so that was amazing for me to experience," said the 17-year-old.
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Kuneluk plans to take a brief break after high school, but said it's vital that she pursues her post-secondary education.
"We are really lucky as Inuvialuit students to have the opportunity to go to college or university ... for free," she said.
The principal of Helen Kalvak Elihakvik school, Richard McKinnon, said he couldn't be more proud.
"You're invested in their education, you want to see them succeed," he said.
"Now all of a sudden, there [are] ... three kids going off to university next year and even our younger kids are talking about it."
McKinnon said a past teacher who now lives in southern Canada is even making a trip back to Ulukhaktok to see the students graduate on June 13.