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School's Out

 So, it snowed in Attawapiskat. A lot. And apparently enough to cancel school today. Good opportunity, we thought, to wander by a house of a youth leader and chat with her about everything swirling around her here. The politics, the sniping, the sight of earnest volunteers flying in to help out.

But she hadn't given any of that much thought. What she did want to talk about was school. She attends the high school here, the one that sits in an actual building, with actual hallways and actual lockers. That is to say it's the lucky one. The elementary school is still a series of icy portables. A new one is coming. Eventually.

But it seems what happens within the walls of the high school isn't necessarily much to for her to boast about. What class was supposed to be on the schedule this afternoon, we asked. "Not sure. It has a long name," she told us.

What about homework? "No. We don't really get any unless we haven't finished our assignments in class."

What did she think of the education generally? To this she paused, nervously giggled and said "It's not the same as other schools." What she meant, she went on to explain, is that in talking with her friends from urban centres she believe what she learned in Grade Eight was on a par with the work of Grade Four and Five in some other schools. Her friends and family who have moved away and gone to school elsewhere told her it has taken them a while to get up to speed at other schools in other communities.

What happens for her next then? Well, she has plans. She wants to be a teacher, saying she was always fascinated by the young teachers, outsiders, who have come through over the years to teach. Are there any local role models for her? Another pause. She says she's determined to go to college and she comes from a family who will definitely push for that. She knows it will likely mean a lot of work catching up But from where she sits at the ripe old age of 16, that seems far enough away not to worry about right now.

What's class like? Crowded. Loud, she said. And then she described what could be chaos for teachers and students. "Lots of people stand or sit on the floor or counters. There aren't enough desks". She talks of people being cranky and talking back and getting frustrated with being so uncomfortable.

And what of the disturbingly high dropout rate? "Yah, it's high. Lots of people leave after Grade Nine."

What does that mean for everyone else when people just don't come back? "Umm. More desks."

More desks.