Rankin mom gets son with speech challenges back to school full time

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A four-year-old boy is back in kindergarten full time thanks to the efforts of his mom, Samantha Nakoolak, who wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Michael Tutanuak, 4, is all smiles during his first day of school at Leo Ussak Elementary in Rankin Inlet on Aug. 16. photo courtesy of Samantha Nakoolak

Michael Tutanuak, 4, faces challenges with his speech and, as such, he needs a student support assistant (SSA) with him when he’s in class.

Nakoolak said everyone knew Michael would need an SSA when he was registered for kindergarten this year.

She said she contacted the school after registering Michael to see if he would have an SSA available and was told he would, but they weren’t sure who it would be at that point.

“Michael started school on Aug. 16 and I went to the school the following week to see what more I could be doing at home to help him,” said Nakoolak.

“At that meeting, I was told he was doing really good adjusting to school but there were some problems. He ran away a couple of times, and he had been crying a couple of times for toys and stuff like that.

“Then, at that meeting, they told me because they’re short staffed, their last option may be to only have him attend kindergarten on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

“Then on Friday morning, Aug. 23, I spoke with Leo Ussak Elementary School principal Sarah Ayaruak, who said they were extremely short staffed and they asked to have my son stay at home.”

Nakoolak said she took Michael to the babysitter’s and went to work feeling deeply frustrated.

She said she posted the situation on Facebook and then wrote a letter to Education Minister David Joanasie, which she also sent to Deputy Minister of Education Louise Flaherty, her assistant and the superintendent of schools.

“People started sharing what I had posted on Facebook and I spoke to my MLA, Lorne Kusugak, about my situation just before lunch on Aug. 23, and he told me he’d speak to Education Minister Joanasie after he returned to Iqaluit on Aug. 26.

“This past Monday morning the school principal and the superintendent of schools had a long talk and I received a call from Sarah (Ayaruak) that afternoon and she told me she was glad I took my concerns to those I did.

“She told me they had hired a full-time SSA to be with my son and he could attend kindergarten five days a week.

“I wasn’t expecting it all to happen that fast, but I’m extremely grateful it did.”

Nakoolak is still working on her own to see if she can find the funding to have a full-time speech therapist located in Rankin Inlet.

She said the experience was tough and really emotional for her until she received the good news that Michael was back to school full time.

“Michael’s really happy to be back in school and he’s doing really well, but he still has his days,” she said.

“I had to pick him up one day this past week at 11 a.m. because he didn’t want to go back inside after the recess break and wouldn’t calm down.

“I know there are other students out there going through the same thing and, if anybody needs help in drafting a letter or finding out who to send it to, I’m here for them because I know how emotional and frustrating it can all be.

“I’m happy I did what I did so that my son can get a fair and proper education just like any other kid.”