Saskatchewan

Sask. educator celebrates success of Big River First Nation literacy camp, looks to future

With COVID-19 affecting schooling and reading for Indigenous children, Mavis Whitefish-Dreaver wanted to do what she could to help and was inspired to head back to her home, Big River, and work with the youth in the community.

Mavis Whitefish-Dreaver hopes to see parents, elders involved in literacy camp

About 14 youth per day participated in a literacy camp at the Big River First Nation. Organizer Mavis Whitefish-Dreaver says she used a variety of different activities and strategies to address kids' literacy challenges. (Submitted by Lyle Whitefish)

Youth in Big River First Nation who attended a recent literacy camp saw significant improvement in their reading skills, says the educator who started the camp, and she hopes the program will return to the community.

Mavis Whitefish-Dreaver lives in Saskatoon, where she works as a teacher with the Greater Catholic School Division and is involved with the Summer Success literacy program.

With COVID-19 affecting schooling and reading for Indigenous children, she wanted to do what she could to help and was inspired to head back to her home, Big River, and work with the youth in the community, about 150 kilometres north of Saskatoon.

She and three teachers from the Mistahi Sipiy Elementary School used the "Where to Start" assessment — a tool used by teachers to assess student reading levels, behaviours and comprehension.

At the beginning of each week, Whitefish-Dreaver said each participating student took a test to establish their baseline. They were retested at the end of the week to gauge their improvement.

Most participants improved their literacy by two to three levels in the assessment system, Whitefish-Dreaver said. Some improved as much as five levels. 

"We felt really proud for these students, because they worked really hard, you know, and they put a lot of work into the different strategies we were teaching them," she said. 

"A lot of them were really determined to pick up their reading levels." 

Whitefish-Dreaver said she felt if she had another week with the students they would only continue to show improvement.

Now, she said she's working to bring the program back on a bigger scale next summer. 

Her goal for next year's program is to create something that will target children with lower literacy levels and engage them through a camp that's a week or longer. She said she would like to see more parents and elders involved in the program as well. 

She said she'd already started planning to find organizations who can help make her dream for the literacy camp a reality. But on Friday she was still reveling in her program's success this year. 

"It was pretty amazing. It was a good experience for a first year."

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