School is awesome, Jamie Bignell declared, the smile obvious even through the phone line from Opaskwayak Cree Nation.
The Grade 5 student at Joe A. Ross School loves school so much that grandmother Pauline Bignell has a huge challenge keeping Jamie home when she's sick.
Like all five Grade 5 students we're following this year in schools across Manitoba, Jamie loves her school -- but like the other four kids from whom we'll hear in the third part of our series, Jamie has some things that others lack in their schools, and she's missing some things that other kids take for granted.
Jamie loves school so much that she doesn't realize how much better school would be if Ottawa funded the OCN and other First Nations schools at the same level as Manitoba funds its public schools, said her grandmother.
"The problem is that we receive approximately 25 per cent less for funding per student," Bignell said. "Obviously the cost of maintaining buildings is the same for all schools in the area, so the dollars available per student for education itself are limited.
"Because of the poverty and resulting social issues, there is still a reflection of that in some of the students. We are moving forward, but there is no magic wand for healing," the grandmother said.
Bignell would love to see the resources available for Jamie to have specialists in art and music, and the school desperately needs money to provide the resources for special needs students that the public system enjoys -- there are only two resource staff at OCN, and as good as they are, they're overwhelmed, said Bignell.
Stephen Grahn isn't in quite the same boat as Jamie, and the Grade 5 student at Linden Christian School, the province's largest independent school, doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about education funding.
Nevertheless, Linden Christian spent $1,405 less per student than the public system average in 2010-2011, the last year for which province-wide private school data are available. Linden Christian has only one smart board, said Stephen, while the public school he formerly attended in Portage la Prairie had one in every classroom. And Stephen believes Linden Christian is big enough to rate a second gym -- a pretty good call on his part -- but the province does not provide capital funding for private schools.
Samantha Holyk knows Balmoral School in Interlake School Division is really small, too small to have specialist teachers and a lot of options, especially in arts.
"I wish that we had choir. We probably have enough kids -- we just don't do it," Samantha said. "I wish like Grade 5 and up could do sports, like volleyball and basketball. That would be cool to have dance. I dance every Saturday in Stonewall."
Being in a big school in Winnipeg School Division, with its high property taxes and enormous commercial assessment base, Juliana Valdora doesn't really want for programming variety and resources at Tyndall Park Community School. But her lunch supervision is so cumbersome that some kids are getting pretty hungry by the time they're checked in at lunch.
Her lunch program costs $300 per child, pretty expensive for families, said dad Fred.
And there could always be more options, said Juliana. She gets art and music, but no band or dance.
Aliegha Dixon attends a pretty decent-sized school at Opasquia School in Kelsey School Division in the Pas, but there's a cost in being so isolated from other communities and a six-hour drive from Winnipeg.
There's no art class, the kids have to fundraise just to have a weekly after-school art club, and field trips to museums that kids in Winnipeg can reach in 20 minutes are a major and costly undertaking.
On the other hand, how many kids in Winnipeg went to the Trappers' Festival in The Pas this winter?
Let's catch up with our five kids as they move into the last three months of being in Grade 5.
-- -- --
What does Samantha Holyk have in common with Sidney Crosby?
Both love to skate, and both have had concussions.
At school, "We've been getting to skate every Friday. It's fun -- I enjoy it," said Samantha.
That's at the arena in Balmoral.
"Every Monday and Thursday I figure skate" in Stonewall.
Again at school, "In February we had a skateathon, however many laps we did, people would donate money for the play structure we want to have. I had to sit out, I had a concussion."
Oh, that's not good.
"At figure skating, I fell on my head," said Samantha.
Turns out the school requires helmets, figure skating doesn't.
"She was out for a week for skating and swimming and sports and gym," said mom Roberta Finnie. "She was confused -- for a couple of days, she couldn't do math questions."
It didn't slow Samantha down too long, fortunately.
"We went on a field trip to a play in Stony Mountain" at a cost of $4 each. "It was a hockey-type play," adults performing, and demonstrating negative ways in which hockey parents behave.
"I like band, gym; math is OK, not my favourite, though. I like science -- we're learning about electricity. I don't like social studies," shaking her head.
As for what lies ahead, camping in Woodlands lies ahead, not that far from Balmoral.
"Oh yeah, we're going to go to Camp Douglas. We're going on a Wednesday, and staying Wednesday night and Thursday night," said Samantha. "We do rock climbing, biking."
There's no lake or river: "There's a swamp. Last year we got to go in the swamp.
"Originally it was $115 to go. We did a bake sale, we got $12.50 off."
Finnie reckons it cost her $10 for the stuff she made for the bake sale to save $12.50.
Water off a duck's back to Samantha: "This month is Milk Spirit Month. We get a moooovie; Friday is milk and cookies."
-- -- --
Juliana Valdora and her Tyndall Park classmates are also off to Woodlands for three days of camping, her first experience.
"It's going to be awesome... I hope."
She doesn't have a sleeping bag, but, "My mom said we're going to buy."
They're not allowed to bring cameras, a Winnipeg School Division policy. "Some kids' parents didn't allow them for pictures, and they might be posted on the Internet," said Juliana, who stays up to speed on WSD policy.
"We did a social studies project about First Nations, and I did the Inuit. I learned a little bit about why they used inukshuks," she said.
"February, we needed to read for the whole month, and we needed to track how many hours we read. Whoever reads the most gets to pick the colour of the principal's hair."
As much as she reads, alas, Juliana didn't win: "For the whole month, I forgot to write it down.
"I've read Amelia's Notebook, Poison Apple books -- they're like scary fiction. There's one main character and there's other secondary characters. It's Geronimo Stilton."
For homework: "We have a subject called What in the World? Like, what's happening around the world.
"That bike rider who cheated on the Tour de France, what was his name again?"
Um, there were so many. If you mean the winner, that would be Lance Armstrong.
"Science, we're doing about simple machines, the incline plane, wedge, screws. Math, probability, what are the chances of getting like blue, red. We use spinners and there's four colours," Juliana explained.
"The creative writing teacher gives us a topic and shows us a picture of it, and then we write a story. Mine is about an old library, and this girl gets a dangerous book, and she dies from it. When she sleeps, the book opens up to a magic spell, and there's vines and they bite her."
Coming up with a plot like that in Grade 5? In your second language? Uh, Juliana, you know there's a very real possibility that Stephen King is reading this story, eh? You might want to copyright your work.
"We're going to River Ridge Retirement Home. We're going to partner up with a senior and we play the games they play," Juliana said.
The competitive school choir won a silver sticker at a competition, Juliana said. "The judges said we should have more expression in the song. It was a church, but they said it was for a concert hall.
"There's one more field trip, we're going to the symphony, and some of the students are going to sing with the symphony, six students.
"April 26 we're going to have our spring fling dance."
And Juliana has just had a student-led conferences with her parents and teacher.
"The teacher talks to the parents about what the student is doing at school." She's been told "participate more in class."
"My teacher gets mad at the boys, they just go and say, they don't raise their hands."
And Juliana can't wait to be eligible to take the babysitting course. At home, "She's like a second mom" to her baby brother, said dad.
Said Juliana: "I carry my baby brother so my mom can eat first."
-- -- --
Stephen Grahn has a speech competition at Linden Christian School in April. "Every person has to prepare his own speech and give it to the class, and the teacher picks three people to give it in the chapel," said Stephen, who reached the finals in Grade 3.
His topic: "When life gives you melons, you know you're dyslexic."
We'll pause while you think about it.
Said mom Myrna: "There's five mums. We just started a dyslexic association for Manitoba, because there isn't one. Other provinces are way ahead of us."
Of course, there's the science fair. "I did paper vs. iPad, which can you memorize better on? I made two lists and tested people. The results were the same," finding that students remembered six out of 10 words regardless of system.
"Girls remembered better on iPads, boys remembered better on paper." Why the gender difference will have to await further research.
"We did an explorer, I did Ferdinand Magellan. He sailed for King Charles V," Stephen said. Sailing with that dude wasn't the best career move, Stephen learned.
"He started with five ships and ended up with one; he started with 251 men and ended up with 18. He died in a battle."
Stephen's performing with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in April. "I play an alto recorder," he pointed out.
They're singing three numbers with the WSO. "One in German we just learned. We're singing Under the Sea, and In the Halls of the Mountain King -- I thought it was going to be from The Lion King, but it wasn't."
There were field trips to Pan Am Pool and Festival du Voyageur.
"I'd like another gym the same size," Stephen said, because the younger grades get bumped to the multipurpose room.
While it's got nothing to do with school, Stephen is going to Toronto this summer to try out as a model and to compete for a spot in acting school.
"They're looking for models who can skate. They were thrilled that he plays hockey," said mom.
-- -- --
Before you hear about Jamie Bignell's field trip, crank up some mining songs from Stompin' Tom, Johnny Cash, or Loretta Lynn.
The field trip from OCN was for "Career Treks -- go to Flin Flon the first day, then to UCN (University College of the North)."
Flin Flon has a big mine, and down into the depths went the students.
"We went to a laboratory, and we went in a simulator, and we all got to drive trucks. They were underground trucks. It was good."
And how did the simulator go?
"One time -- the side", Jamie laughed, after she hit the wall of the mine shaft, no damage.
And what was Jamie thinking after coming back from Career Trek?
"Being a miner...scientist" and she laughed again.
"It was terrific, it was a really broadening experience," said grandmother Pauline Bignell. "They'd never get that in school.
"She went with an open mind. She saw a lot of careers she might see herself in."
Meanwhile, said Jamie, "I finally been bad for once. I had no gym. I went to the mall."
She got busted skipping out to visit the mall in The Pas, and missing gym was the penalty.
Said Pauline about her young miscreant: "She's coming out of her shell. That's the first time she's ever been in trouble at school."
Meanwhile, Jamie is continuing to overcome her learning disability in math.
"I have an iPad, I use it for math. At lunchtime I play with it, Angry Birds and Bubble Pop."
In the science fair, Jamie used taco sauce and organic cleaners to test cleaning powers. "We put pennies in the taco sauce" and used "lemon sauce and salt with butter."
Did it clean?
At home, "We had baby goats. I take care of them."
-- -- --
Gotta think for a minute about what we say about Aliegha Dixon here -- do we want to give space to a competing newspaper?
OK, we'll do it.
"We're doing a newspaper at our school and I'm part of it," Aliegha said from The Pas. "I'm doing animal facts. I write a short paragraph about animals. Last year we sold them for 25 cents."
And does she enjoy it, maybe at least until anonymous commenters post their obervations online?
"Yes, it's fun."
Aliegha goes to art club every Thursday after school, and really, really wishes she could take art as a regular subject. "Right now we're doing clay, it's really fun. We did this Easter thing -- we did eggs and we got to decorate them.
"After school I go to the after-school program, Marigold," she said. "I have snacks, or we go to the gym or outside, until they pick us up. It's part of school," said Aliegha, who lives about 25 minutes outside of The Pas at Clearwater Lake.
She can swim in summer. "Yes, but it's cold, though," Aliegha laughed.
"The report cards came out, so I'm having a parent/teacher meeting. It was good."
While parents don't yet need to worry about having some 'splainin' to do when Aliegha learns some new stuff, at least not in Grade 5, heads up: "After spring break, we're doing family life."
Meanwhile, mom Cindy Hiebert-Dixon wishes Aliegha could travel a little further afield. "Field trips should be a regular part of the educational system -- perhaps due to our location, these mostly occur in the month of June. A trip to the art gallery, the Manitoba Museum, or even the zoo would be a great opportunity!"
The one field trip was right in town. "The Trappers Festival, we went to the dog races and parade. It was a lot of fun," said Aliegha.
"In gym, we're doing cup stacking. We have to go like fast; I got third.
"In language arts, we're doing spelling tests. In like French and stuff, we're learning about Europeans and the first people," she reported.
"I read the book Holes and then we watched the movie. There were things I got in the movie I didn't get in the book, but the book was more descriptive.
"In music, we play different instruments, like drums or the xylophone or recorder," Aliegha said.
Alone among our Grade 5 students, Aliegha will be graduating in less than three months. Opasquia School only goes to Grade 5, so she'll go from being the oldest kids in the school, to -- sigh! -- the youngest in a middle school.