Community, family connections run strong in ATEP grad

(Edmonton) As the lights dimmed for this morning’s convocation ceremony at the University of Alberta, a community was preparing to graduate.

With 48 undergraduates crossing the stage, the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program is graduating its largest class as part of the Faculty of Education’s fall convocation.

The program, which is also celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, allows students to complete their bachelor’s degree in elementary education while maintaining community, family and cultural connections. The program’s goal is to increase the number of First Nations, Métis and Inuit teachers, as well as teachers with an understanding of Aboriginal issues, perspective and histories in the classrooms. Students who graduate from ATEP are prepared to teach responsively and meaningfully when they have Aboriginal students in their classes, and in Aboriginal communities.

Working in co-operation with Northern Lakes College and the Northland School Division, ATEP allowed its graduating students to study at 14 community sites. The program engages elders as mentors and co-instructors, and program sites have offered support through indigenous ceremonies. Offering ATEP within students’ home communities is a vital reason the program has excellent student success and retention.

Many of those who are completing their BEd are former teaching assistants who sought to provide some continuity in the learning experiences of their children, while implementing or maintaining indigenous content into their classrooms.

High Prairie’s Yvonne Hamelin is one of those ATEP graduates who feels the sense of community—both at home and through the program. After having spent seven years as a teaching assistant, Hamelin jumped at the chance to fulfil a lifelong dream of becoming a teacher.

“I have always dreamed about making a difference in the lives of children,” she said. “I had people in the schools rooting for me and the education that I was aiming for. “

What made the program attractive to Hamelin was being able to complete it in her home community. With three very young children and two older stepchildren, she says there were moments where she felt the pressure of balancing her studies and her family. But with the support of her family, her community, her instructors and those in her program, she found the resolve to carry on.

“Most of our cohort became an ATEP family; we were always willing to help each other out if we had struggles, whether it was in school or home life,” said Hamelin. “My high points were meeting a bunch of wonderful people from different areas and becoming friends and adoptive families.”

Hamelin is now working as a kindergarten teacher in a community roughly an hour from her home. For her, the position is a source of both responsibility and pride.

“I think it is important to teach in our home community because there are ties to the community—we will know the families in the communities,” said Hamelin. “I know a lot of the families in the area that I am working with. They are happy that I am teaching their children.”