Today I launched a fund-raising campaign through IndieGoGo. It took me the whole summer to work up the nerve to do it, because to be honest, I feel really weird asking people for money. Even when it’s not for myself. I was the kid in school who conscientiously objected to selling all the weird things schools ask you to sell to fund trips. Going door to door guilt-tripping people into buying 90lbs of oranges and such just wasn’t my thing.
What finally decided me, was browsing the ‘Education’ category and seeing how many people were asking for help paying their student loans and trips to Africa. Some of them are getting serious money, too! I imagine a lot of it probably comes from family, but still. If they have the cojones to ask, then I need to get over my shyness and do this for my students.
You might know that I’ve taken a break from the law, and have gotten back into what I really love: teaching. I teach Inuit girls from Nunavik (Northern Quebec) at a place called Ulluriaq Adolescent Center, here in Montreal. We have a maximum residential population of 8 girls at a time, all of whom are in the Child Welfare system and under Youth Protection Orders.
I can’t tell you anything specific about these girls, because that information is confidential. What I can tell you is that they are between 13-17 in age and range greatly in grade level. I can have up to six different grade levels represented in the classroom at once, depending on the subject.
Ulluriaq was set up to provide culturally relevant programming for Inuit youth in the Child Welfare system here in Montreal. You can imagine how alienating it must be to be placed in Montreal after living your whole life in a small, tight-night northern community. My classroom is just a small part of a larger project.
The girls speak Inuktitut as a first language, with English or French as second (or third) languages. The population changes often and we have girls who come into the program for only 30 days, while others have been there for over a year. So while I only have 8 students at a time, the program serves many youth over time. Continuity in a program like this is very difficult. I’ve had to adapt my teaching to address the various challenges of an every changing population made up of students with disparate learning needs.
My students are dealing with incredible stresses, and it’s fair to say that they have been through things that would give you nightmares. I do not want you thinking that these girls are broken or weak, however. What never fails to astound me is the resiliency of the human spirit. I know that sounds trite, but I get to see it every single day when I walk into the unit and see these girls still smiling, still acting like the silly teenagers they are. They will become the adults who, in my own life, have inspired me the most with their strength and compassion. All they need in order to become those adults, is the confidence to get there.
The campaign: Getting a SMART Board in the classroom
Given the small number of students in the classroom, my budget is very close to nil. We do not have textbooks or other materials aside from the most basic supplies. Even if I were to purchase texts, the cost would be prohibitive. A standard textbook is about $70, and I would need to ensure that I had at least 4 grade levels covered in every subject for it to be worthwhile. In a few years I might be able to amass enough of these texts to finally have some breathing space…but in the meantime my current students miss out.
I spend a lot of time developing materials and I do not begrudge the work. However, there is a tonne of excellent web content out there tailored for the SMART Board which integrates kinaesthetic, aural and visual learning, and these kids would seriously benefit. These kinds of technologies can sometimes be gimicky, and more for show than anything. Quebec is in the beginning phases of putting a SMART Board into every regular K-12 classroom in the province, whether they’re appropriate in every context of not. However, in a small classroom setting like ours, where there is a need to accommodate many grade levels at once and student motivation is a serious challenge, it makes sense.
Motivation is key here. A lot of my students have had very negative school experiences and they constantly underestimate their abilities. The materials I use absolutely must speak to them as capable human beings, rooted in their culture. Standard banking methods of educational delivery do not work, and the girls feel very uncomfortable doing individual work. However, like most teens, they are supremely comfortable with technology. When I have been able to integrate on-line materials into the lessons, I have seen incredible results, but those results fall apart quickly if we do not work together as a group.
These girls deserve an opportunity to have the same access to technology and programming that every other student in Quebec is supposed to have, and they cannot wait years to get it. In some cases, this time at Ulluriaq will be the last chance we have to help these students feel competent and comfortable in pursuing their education, and we may only have a few months to make this happen for each individual girl. Indigenous youth already have much lower completion rates in secondary school than non-native children, and my students are in the ultimate high risk category beyond that. A SMART Board is not going to solve all these problems, but it does give me a chance to engage them in a way that will excite and delight them.
Manitobah Mukluks shows you love!
To entice contributions, Manitobah Mukluks has very generously donated over $600 worth of Mukluks to the cause. For those who contribute $10 or more, there will be a draw at the end of the campaign, and two lucky people will receive a pair of the Mukluks shown here!
And lemme tell ya…I cannot wait to pull mine out of summer storage, because they are the most comfortable, beautiful boots I have ever owned. You will LOVE these (and if you just can’t wait, you can always order some now from their website!).
UPDATE SEPTEMBER 5: the Indiegogo site apparently doesn’t allow ‘raffles’ to be advertised on the site, so I was asked to take this offer down over there. Nonetheless the draw WILL go through! If you donate $10 or more, your name will be entered into the draw at the end of the campaign.
Please spread the word!
I’m not expecting you all to contribute, I know that you’re the best judge of whether you can afford it or not, and no worries if you can’t. I’m not all that flush with cash myself, so I know that the desire doesn’t necessarily create the ability. However, spreading the word through your social media networks would be greatly appreciated. And finally…here is the link to the campaign:
(shorter link to share: http://igg.me/p/216842?a=1145231)
And forgive the poor quality of the video on that site, I was working with my crappy laptop webcam