Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck:
Honourable senators, I rise today to recognize and congratulate Denise Desjardins, an elementary schoolteacher from Mistawasis First Nation in Saskatchewan who recently won a Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, commonly referred to as STEM.
Over the past year, Denise has incorporated Cree language and culture into her use of technology in the classroom, the results of which have been tremendous. The Grade 1 and 2 students she teaches have become fully engaged and their reading skills have improved. One student’s marks jumped from 47 per cent to 90 per cent.
The idea to combine Cree language and culture into her classroom technology arose from her observation that her students’ faces lit up when seeing photos of themselves in a story with Cree words. Serendipitously, the school had also just begun a pilot project using one-to-one tablet learning.
The news of winning the Prime Minister’s Award stunned Denise Desjardins, who said:
It was a shock even to be nominated for this, because I do what I do for the children, for my community.
Denise adapted apps to include First Nations content to allow the students to do such things as send video messages to their parents in Cree and, using augmented reality, impose a picture, for example, of an eagle, and the Cree translation of the word, “kihew,” onto a photo of a teepee in the classroom. Her efforts are noticeably rooted in a deep passion for the well-being, care and development of her students.
Despite the long daily commute of 130 kilometres each way to teach at the school, Denise says she has no desire to teach elsewhere because of the connections and relationships she has with her students, many of whom are quick to hug her and call her with familiarity as “auntie.” Her sentiments are, “I just feel that’s my home and that’s where I need to be.”
Over the past year as the kids have learned to embrace their language and culture, so has Denise. She and her students now find themselves in a reciprocating learning environment where oftentimes the students are teaching her words as they go along. Denise said, “My spirit was awakened. . . . We’re learning it together.”
Denise Desjardins’ exemplary efforts can awaken a nationwide effort to integrate culturally appropriate learning material and technology into our educational institutions as it is clear it greatly benefits all those involved.
Congratulations, Denise Desjardins, on your award from the Prime Minister for your excellence in teaching STEM.