Classroom Cultural Exchange Transcript

Hi, my name is Lisl Gunderman. I teach a Wildwood School. It's a small K-9 rural public school in Wildwood, Alberta.

Tan’si. My name is Maxine Hildebrandt and I am a Grade 3-4 teacher at Mother Earth's Children's Charter School.

We are two teachers from two completely different schools about one hour apart from each other in rural Alberta just outside of Edmonton. We brought our two classes together for a culture exchange.

I have been a teacher for over twenty-five years in Wildwood. Many of the families in the area have lived there for generations. The community has strong Ukrainian roots, but also people of German, Metis, and African-American descent.

Ice fishing on Chip Lake is our common winter past-time. People make a living predominantly in agriculture, oil and gas or coal mining.

Maxine's school is located out in the woods along the North Saskatchewan River southwest of Edmonton.

It's a charter school. Charter schools are unique to Alberta because they are publicly funded but they allow for the values of a charter to be a focus.

Maxine's been an inspiration to work with. She has a gracious, welcoming way with everyone and that radiated throughout the whole project. It's a project about relationship. The culture exchange became safe ground for everyone to share.

I think it is neat how we met. We randomly met at a summer course in 2016 called the Alberta Hunter Education Instructor Certification Course (AHEIA). Both of us were drawn to that course in the first place out of a deep desire to increase land based teaching to our students.

I was thrilled when Maxine contacted me the following January and we couldn't wait to introduce our students. Together we would use the outdoors as a rich way of delivering social and science concepts.

We were awarded a $2500 grant from the Canadian Multicultural Education Foundation to live out all of our dreams for an exciting project. And of course we supplemented the shortfall from our own disposable incomes.

We would have students create All About Me posters to introduce themselves. The students wrote penpal letters to one another and those became the glue that solidified the students’ relationships to one another.

We would bring our kids together for a total of four field trips. Two where they came our way and two where we went their way. The storytelling trip, the hide-tanning trip, the history of the Pembina Valley trip, and the fishing trip.

A key reason our story is such a delight to share is that it gives us a chance to thank and credit the people that helped us in what we wanted to do. What I'll also be listing are our resources.

We teach delightful children and this award is because of them and their wonderful families.

We both work in schools where we are afforded a wide latitude of creative expression by our admin.

Ed Wittchen, Maxine's Superintendent, is renowned across Alberta as a talent developer extraordinaire in the field of education.

Famous Metis author David Bouchard, Order of Canada recipient, our friend here today. He is the creator of books that so inspired Maxine along the development of her teaching.

Earl Choldin, CEO of the Canadian Multicultural Education Foundation, he has tears over this project, it means so much to him.

Maxine and I met at the AHEIA Instructor Course. AHEIA strives to make fishing and wildlife a part of the value system of every Albertan and they have incredible resources.

Our parents have incredible legacies. They were born in the 1940s. They unified in support of this work.

So did our Elders. So did the Wildwood Grandparents Program.

Canada's History and the Office of the Governor General, we acknowledge you for tirelessly recognizing and archiving the invisible work of regular Canadians like us.

And last but not least, we have the two most supportive husbands in the world, Darrell Hunter and Mark Hildebrandt.

I would like to talk about the relevance and the impact of our cultural exchange.

Lisl and I wanted to create a safe and caring learning environment for our students, and to expose them to rich learning activities. We wanted them to feel free to participate whole-heartedly and to be engaged learners.

Some children may approach a new learning experience, like this one, with some feelings of anxiety. Sometimes students can feel shy, withdrawn, and reluctant to interact with new people. Before they can readily engage in a one-on-one learning experience with new people, they first need to feel accepted and appreciated by them.

Some of my students wondered how the other kids would regard them.

I talk to my kids and I encourage them to look towards the Seven Sacred Teachings, to respect and treat others in the manner they, themselves, would like to be treated. I showed them how this learning opportunity could be a great chance for non-Indigenous students to show, to see how friendly and accepting that Indigenous students could be.

And this approach put them in a positive frame of mind and they looked forward to meeting new people and making new friends.

The culture exchange provided an excellent opportunity for our students to see things from perspectives other than their own.

Lisl and I started to notice a number of transformations taking place in our students. We saw how they were curious to learn about other people and often stepped out of their comfort zones to collaborate with others.

Learning engagement was high, and our students became gracious hosts to new visitors that entered the schools.

School attendance increased as many kids did not want to miss out on a lot of the fun learning that was taking place. S

tudents were eager to share their culture with others – particularly information about their own customs, traditions, and stories. They found common ground with one another and formed friendships that still last today.

They explained what it’s like to live in a farming community, to take part in rodeos, and to live in a family that values hunting and trapping as part of their way of life.

Our students came to realize that they were holders of knowledge and mini-experts in their own right.

Many of my students dance and wear traditional regalia in powwows. They explained to their penpals in letters how they prepare themselves for powwow dancing, and some even stepped forward, spontaneously, to dance at a Wildwood School talent show.

A few Wildwood students took the initiative to research their family’s roots and history.

One student’s family became so inspired after listening to David Bouchard and his talk about appreciating Canada’s north, that they decided to explore the beauty of the Yukon on their summer vacation.

We noticed that our students were becoming more outgoing, emerging as leaders and risk-takers, and were eager to try new things. Lisl and I came to see that trust is a vital, essential ingredient that must be there in order to foster a spirit of openness, to form connections and friendships.

Teachers all across our nation today, face huge challenges in implementing Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action. We look inwards within ourselves to find a way to build trust and work toward reconciliation, to bring Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people closer together.

Our culture exchange made this happen for us. Thank you!