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Outreach school gives flight to community’s dream

“It reminds me of that Kevin Costner film, Field of Dreams, build it and they will come,” said Principal Jason Seright.
Scholastic ceremony: Vinnie Saddleback dances during the procession that led in the eagle staff.

“It reminds me of that Kevin Costner film, Field of Dreams, build it and they will come,” said Principal Jason Seright.

The new Maskwacis Outreach School held its grand opening Oct. 5 as the school of dreams.

Nicole Nepoose, a young mother and student, shared her story with the crowd at the grand opening. “When I found out I was pregnant I gave up on school. I didn’t think I’d be able to go back until he was older.”

However, Nepoose went back to school three days after giving birth to her son. “The school is very helpful to young mothers like me.”

Another student was able to remove himself from a life of gangs and is now raising his young son, with the help of the school, which features a daycare.

“That’s what this school is about,” said Seright.

For the last two years Maskwacis Outreach School was held in a large white house. Now it’s a full-fledged campus at the Maskwacis Mall.

“This outreach school’s a long time coming,” said master of ceremonies elder Wilson Okeymaw. “In a sense there’s so many young parents who fall in between the cracks of education.”

A 2009 survey revealed a handful of young parent students, older students who’d transferred schools a lot, and students in the justice system were falling behind in a mainstream education system, said Seright.

The Samson Cree Nation initiated the school based on those results. “Last year we really started taking about it, and with a partnership with Ermineskin we just made it happen,” said Seright.

Renovations for the school, which is located in a former grocery store, began July 2012 and the school moved in Sept. 4.

Seright and the Four Nations community see the building not just as a  school, but also as a promise to the futures of the students.

Maskwacis Outreach School features customized schedules for the students. “We individualize the program to where they are,” said Seright.

Okeymaw says the success of students will come from the idea behind the school. He believes students shouldn’t have to fit the system; the system should fit the students. “It’s unique, I think it’s a beautiful concept.”

Okeymaw was a student during the residential school era. Elders told him he had to attend those schools because of the importance of education.

“Education is essential, that is the wisdom of the elders. However, in the same breath, you have to maintain your culture. When you have the two you’ll be much stronger to survive mainstream society,” said Okeymaw.

Okeymaw said without an education and an understanding of society’s fundamentals, such as basic computer skills, First Nations people won’t stand a “fighting chance” in the business and career world.

“A quality education goes hand in hand with individual career options. This (the outreach school) is particularly trailblazing in this environment and I’m particularly pleased,” said Wetaskiwin MP Blaine Calkins.

Seright said with the school already being the largest high school in Hobbema, he sees it only expanding in the future.

“With this initiative I’m hoping that we reach out to a good number in our community,” added Chief Brad Rabbit of the Montana Nation. “I hope that each and every one of our students are going to achieve their milestones.”

Two years ago when the school was still located in a house it was attended by 32 students; last year, 81 students. In its first month at the new location the school already has 139 students, 25 being young parents.

“I expect by the time April rolls around we’ll have over 200 students,” said Seright.

Seright says everything came together perfectly and quickly; there were no challenges he could recall. “There was a fear of trying to get the funding.”

However, the school was renovated with $500,000 and the furnishings cost an additional $55,000, and it’s not finished yet.

Seright said they still have to finish the daycare and phys ed. equipment will be at the school by late October.

“What a great day. An environment that’s going to meet the needs of the students is something else,” said Chief Marvin Yellowbird of the Samson Cree Nation.