Nunavut’s children called true Arctic Inspiration Prize winners

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Pond Inlet’s Pirurvik Preschool trainers will soon set off on a three-and-a-half year journey across Nunavut’s three regions to introduce their award-winning, made-in-Nunavut early childhood education program.

Ilisaqsivik’s Eena Iqaqrialu, left, and Pirurvik Preschool trainer Samantha Koonoo organize the new early childhood education materials during the Clyde River preschool training in late 2017. Over the next three-and-a-half years, seven daycares across the territory will see their programming enhanced by the unique blend of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit and the Montessori method pioneered by Pond Inlet early childhood educators.
photo courtesy Pirurvik Preschool

That’s thanks to the $1 million Arctic Inspiration Prize the Pirurvik team won in mid-February and an initial quarter-million pledge from the Qikiqtani Inuit Association.

As co-founder Karen Nutarak explains, Pirurvik blends Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) and the Montessori method.

“I’m very excited. I think it’s a very good learning method for children,” said Nutarak, who recalled a visit to the Glebe Montessori School in Ottawa to observe its Montessori preschool.

“Children can learn at their own pace. If children learn at their own pace, they enjoy what they’re doing. It looked like the way Inuit learn. Children observe and they play.”

Alashua Akpaleapik, seen here at Pond Inlet’s Pirurvik Preschool, benefits from the blend of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) and the Montessori method.
photo courtesy Pirurvik Preschool

Children learning at their own pace is grounded in the Inuit societal value pilimmaksarniq – development of skills through observation, mentoring, practice, and effort – and the foundation of the Montessori method developed by Italian physician and educator Marie Montessori.

Nutarak references a TV series, wherein one episode two men are building a qamutik.

“The children observe, even though they’re playing on the side. They see what’s happening and later on they imitate the men.”

Nutarak calls the meld of Montessori methods and materials and Inuit culture and language powerful.

Inunnguiniq, the process of making capable and contributing human beings, is also an essential element of the Pirurvik program.

Co-founder Tessa Lochhead says developing the program for daycares answers the call they heard from many childcare centres in the territory.

“Over the past few years since we opened – word of mouth travels fast – we’ve had people approach us about training opportunities, possibilities to support daycares in the Qikiqtani region. Family members who were connected to the preschool had family and friends in other communities beyond Qikiqtani who had heard about the program and wanted similar programming,” said Lochhead.

 

Vow over a handshake

While the creation of Pirurvik Preschool came to be because Pond Inlet students taking Nunavut Arctic College’s early childhood education (ECE) program in 2015 needed a location for their practicum, the partnership between co-founders Karen Nutarak and Tessa Lochhead began earlier, in 2013.

“Before the ECE (program), Tessa and I shook hands. We both had ideas of preschool childcare at the daycares. We shook hands that maybe one day we’ll go for it,” said Nutarak. “When the ECE program started, it all came together.”

Support from QIA’s Iligiktunut Fund has been instrumental – for the ongoing Pirurvik Preschool in Pond Inlet and the successful Clyde River pilot – as has funding from Makigiaqta Inuit Training Corporation, which approached Pirurvik Preschool to develop training modules in 2017.

The time had come to turn to the Arctic Inspiration Prize.

“We contacted each of the community daycares and talked about all the things that were required to apply, a point person, bios on each of the people involved. We reached out to 10 childcare centres that had asked about support and seven got back to us very quickly with all of the information,” said Lochhead.

Pirurvik had to demonstrate how they were innovating.

“We will learn how to apply the same programming, community-specific, and apply it to infants and toddlers, three months to age two, which is a new area for us since we currently just operate as a preschool for ages three to four,” said Lochhead.

“And how to make the programming all-encompassing in a half-room daycare, in small spaces, that is realistic to the context of Nunavut daycares in our communities.”

Ilitaqsiniq (Nunavut Literacy Council) executive director Adriana Kusugak nominated the team, which, along with Nutarak and Lochhead are: Raymee Angnetsiak, Ilisapi Haulli, Celina Kalluk, Leah Kippomee, Samantha Koonoo, Ceporah Mearns, Denica Nahogaloak, Julian Oyukuluk, Pauline Pauloosie, Noodloo Peter, Tannikie Peterloosie, and Sandi Vincent-Connelly.

Pirurvik trainer Samantha Koonoo demonstrates an activity to Clyde River’s Ilisaqsivik preschool team of Aileen Kadloo, Eena Iqaqrialu, and Kelly Arnakak.
photo courtesy Pirurvik Preschool

Koonoo and Kippomee have been a part of the team since the start. Koonoo trained staff in Clyde River. Over three-and-a-half years, they will be training and setting up materials at Iqaluit’s Tumikuluit Saipaaqivik Daycare beginning in April, then at daycares in Arctic Bay, Iglulik, their home community of Pond Inlet, Rankin Inlet, Cambridge Bay, and Taloyoak.

Parents can rest assured there will be no increase in daycare fees, said Lochhead.

“I’ve been asked about this a lot because people associate Montessori with expensive daycare, as it is in the south,” she said.

 

They’re important, says trainer about children

“First they will come to Pond Inlet for training, and when they’re done we’ll be coming (to their community) to help set up their daycare,” said Kippomee.

The two explain the Montessori set-up includes a dramatic play area, as well as materials for sensorial learning, math, language and reading, in Inuktitut and English.

“But we try and use more Inuktitut,” said Kippomee, who says she loves working with children.

“Our preschool is a wonderful place for children. They enjoy coming. They enjoy learning.”

Kippomee says it’s also rewarding to get feedback from parents on their child’s growth.

“It’s for the children,” said Koonoo. “They are team leaders when they are older.”

Teachers at the school also provide feedback, said Kippomee, such as children seeming calmer when they come to kindergarten after attending Pirurvik.

“One feedback we got was they (school teachers) partner up a kindergarten student that’s been to our preschool with a kindergarten student that’s never been to the preschool. They make them work together,” said Nutarak.

The children become learning buddies.

Koonoo and Kippomee say Nunavut Arctic College should offer the early childhood education course in Pond Inlet again, as well as in as many other communities as possible.

“The course really taught me how to work with children, even with our own children. We have to be patient with children and help them. They’re our future. They’re important,” said Kippomee.

Nutarak thanked family – children, spouses, parents and friends – for their support throughout the process of developing the Pirurvik programming.

“I believe in the supporting system. When a person is supported, things happen,” she said.

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Michele LeTourneau first arrived at NNSL's headquarters in Yellowknife in1998, with a BA honours in Theatre. For four years she documented the arts across the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Following a very short stint as a communications officer with the Government of the Northwest Territories, Michele spent a decade at a community-based environmental monitoring board in the mining industry, where she worked with Inuit, Chipewyan, Tlicho, Yellowknives Dene and Metis elders to help develop traditional knowledge and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit contributions for monitoring and management plans. She rejoined NNSL and moved to Iqaluit in May 2014 to write for Nunavut News. Michele has received a dozen awards for her work with NNSL.