Ehpewapahk Alternate School principal Andrew Fulks poses in the entryway of the new building recently. The school had its grand opening on the Ermineskin Cree Nation and has a focus on working with students and incorporating Cree culture in all its learning. Photo by Jeffrey Heyden-Kaye

Maskwacis educators excited with new alternate school

Students with special needs can learn in a Cree-focussed school

A new school has opened in Maswacis that addresses the special needs of its students.

Called, Ehpewapahk Alternate School, the facility features state of the art technology for its educational needs while embracing the Cree and First Nations cultures that are so important to its students, explained principal Andrew Fulks.

The official opening of the school was held Oct. 20 and it sits right next to Bear Park on the Ermineskin Cree Nation.

Ehpewapahk is the bright morning sun,” explained Fulks. “So basically it means a new day.”

Fulks said the goal is for teachers and administration to be a bright, shining hope for students as well as to empower them.

“We focus on three things: nehiyawew identity, health and wellness and employability,” said Fulks of the school’s purpose.

Nehiyawew relates to a person who speaks Cree but also to the Cree identity.

Those students who can’t function within regular schools are the intended receivers of Ehpewapahk Alternate School’s services.

“It’s all about student-centred,” said Fulks.

There are about 49 students at the school at this point, and while there is room for more, Fulks wants to ensure they get quality teacher/student time together.

“We have lots of students who have anxiety and autism so they need space. They need low numbers so that we can have that one-on-one with them,” said Fulks.

The Cree culture is integrated right into students’ learning, he added. In everything the students do, their Cree identity is as much a part of their learning as job or math skills.

From sweats to feasts to singing and round dances, the goal is to create a strong sense of Cree pride.

“The rest of our programming surrounds that and helps to strengthen it,” said Fulks.

It’s all about giving the students a sense of hope and connection while also enhancing their cultural learning.

Construction was relatively quick with groundbreaking starting in April. Fulks said the work of planning and organizing for the new building took several years.

Building the school included partnerships with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada as well as community leaders, chief and council and ATCO Sustainable Communities, explained Fulks.

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