Students at Kuujjuaraapik school learn to live peacefully
“You have a right to be angry, but you have no right to hit others”
Students at Asimauttaq School in Kuujjuaraapik are learning how to control their emotions and become happier as part of the school’s plan to make school a safe, cozy place for its 140 students from Kindergarten to Grade 12.
Efforts include anger management help for students, a student school patrol and a special classroom to “nurture” troubled kids so they can stay in school.
“You have a right to be angry, but you have no right to hit others,” special education teacher Darren Luck tells students from Kindergarten to Grade 6.
To make that message come alive, Luck uses a dragon puppet called Roudy, a dragon who lived on a planet plagued with lots of violence.
Roudy didn’t like violence, so he encouraged his friends to turn to peace, to show them that the world is better place when you can live without conflict, Luck tells students.
“Violence breeds violence” is the message Luck tries to communicate with the story of Roudy.
That’s why he tells his students to channel anger on to “an object rather than a person.”
“If you want to hit, punching balls are there and you may vent your anger on them,” Luck tells them.
After that you can come back to class, he says.
The school has also set up a peer school patrol under the direction of Jay Kim, who teaches Grades 5 and 6.
Kim’s students, who wear fluorescent belts and vests when they’re on duty, patrol the school in the morning, during breaks, at noon and at the end of school in the afternoon.
Principal Serge Molière says they make sure everything runs smoothly.
And they also serve as extra eyes and ears for supervisors and help out when conflicts arise.
But here’s what happens at Asimauttaq when there are conflicts, Molière explains.
In case of a conflict, the aggressor apologizes and makes amends. He or she must also try to find qualities in the other student and come up with three kind words, such as good, kind, handsome, friendly, brave, to describe the other student — as opposed to bad, nasty, ugly. After peace has been restored, and the students are reconciled, they shake hands and smile.
In addition to three supervisors in the playground, two animators also organize leisure activities for the students in the lower grades. The goal is to keep the kids busy by allowing them to expend their energy, Molière says.
But that’s not all Asimauttaq is doing for its students.
After 20 years with the Kativik School Board in Inukjuak and five years in Kuujjuaraapik, Molière says many problems at school are due to the fact that the children don’t have an attachment with adults.
“It’s not normal. When they don’t have attachment with adults, they turn to their peers and that stops them from maturing,” he said. “So the key is to give these kids a chance to connect with adults because many were abused, betrayed by adults.”
That’s the goal of Asimauttaq’s “nurture group.” The school’s “nurture group,” draws its inspiration from similar groups originally started in 1970 in the United Kingdom.
“I hope to have the same success with the program here in Kuujjuaraapik,” says teacher Jasmin Stoffer.
“There are many children who are being isolated and isolating themselves because of their behaviour, self-esteem issues, etc. I hope that my Nurture group can help these students see their true potential and self-worth.”
Stoffer’s classroom is divided into three separate sections — a traditional classroom working area, a kitchen area, and a reading area with couches and a comfy chair.
She says the set-up helps the students feel as comfortable as if they were at home, but also gives them a structure so they know where to go for each activity.
“Structure is key in the nurture group — if the student knows what to do and when to do it, they feel confident to participate in the activity and talk to me about how they are feeling,” she says.
The activities the students do in class include arts and crafts, memory games, relaxation activities, music activities and literacy activities, like reading stories or writing postcards.
Stoffer also plans to add a cooking activity.
The goal is to provide a setting in which a children can experience nurturing care from a caring adult, have “a predictable, calm, and purposeful environment and timetable,” free from school pressures.
The kids in the program include those who “appear unable to integrate into a mainstream classroom for various reasons,” she said.
That can be due to low confidence, self-esteem, lack of self worth or trust, poor social skills, severe behavioural issues, or special needs.
The nurture group is a temporary program — students should be able to be integrated back into the regular classroom after a term of attendance at the nurture group, although it depends on each student, she said.
“As it is still early in the year, I have many other goals I hope to achieve and students whom I wish to see. I feel like this nurture group is a help to the school — and that if it does work, other communities in Nunavik could also have nurture groups in their schools.”
Along with these programs, Asimauttaq also offers three meals a day to its students, thanks to financial help from the Club des Petits-déjeuners, Ungalak’s safer communities program, and the Nunavik regional board of health and social services.
That alone, along with the other efforts, all supported by the local education committee, has made a huge difference, says Molière.
“It’s important because when I arrived here five years ago there was a lot of violence. It was terrible. We have seen a huge difference,” he said. “These kids are hungry and in filling their stomachs in school we saw a drop in vandalism and violence. It’s not like it was.”
Now, kids arrive at 8:15 a.m. Kids play, they learn how to share, they eat at 8:30 a.m, and then go back to play until from 8:45 a.m.”
“I don’t even need to tell them to go to class,” says Molière. “Children are not stupid. They know what’s expected of them.”
And no one is late for school. Molière says he doesn’t accept that and he’s told his students that respect starts with punctuality.
There’s also less absenteeism and homework handed out every day but Friday.
“It’s a spirit that has been created,” Molière said. “It’s slowly taken root and we have replaced that lax attitude. Some say but ‘we’re in the North,’ but I say ‘we’re in the North and it should be like in the South.’ Without that attitude kids from the North will never perform like kids in the South.”
Now he says students are more open and feel free to talk about their problems: “I’ve never seen that much emotion come out, but that does them good.”
The atmosphere in the school has changed and as a bonus teacher turnover has reduced because it’s more pleasant to teach.
Simple discipline isn’t the way out of the problems facing schools and teachers, Molière says. That’s because the real power of teachers doesn’t come from authority but from their influence.
“When you have gained this, they’ll follow you anywhere,” he said.