In Nunavut’s schools, students engage in matters of health holistically.
One way is through the made-in-Nunavut curriculum called Aulajaaqtut – a formation of flying geese – which has received national attention. A decade in development, the program launched in 2010.
Director of curriculum development Leigh Anne Willard says Aulajaaqtut is both a curriculum of its own and a curriculum strand throughout the grades.
“Aulajaaqtut in Grade 10, 11 and 12 is an actual subject. It covers the key ideas of health, emotional and physical wellness. It also covers leadership, citizenship, planning for the future in the way of careers and other kinds of planning and goal setting,” said Willard.
Elders were on the writing team, and the intent was to ground young Inuit in their culture while teaching them how to thrive in today’s world.
That program also has detailed lessons that help a student learn about suicide prevention, self-esteem building and sexual health awareness.
Aulajaaqtut 10 and 11 are required to graduate, and Aulajaaqtut 12, though an elective, qualifies for university entrance at 26 institutions.
“The curriculum strand Aulajaaqtut covers kindergarten to Grade 12, and covers the subjects of health, phys-ed, emotional and social wellbeing,” said Willard.
Aulajaaqtut can help students through hard times
The curriculum division currently has 11 staff, but that’s set to jump to 22. Of those, only Willard and one other are not bilingual.
Michelle Curley is a bilingual teacher who graduated from the Nunavut Teacher Education Program in 2006, and just joined the curriculum division a month ago as lead to develop more Aulajaaqtut curriculum for younger grades.
Curley says the overall objective of health programming in the schools is to “recognize their personal goal setting.”
“It important to help an individual make changes in lifestyle habits, like for personal goals to influence physical activity, diet intake and maintaining a healthy lifestyle,” she said.
And as Curley explains, that elders were involved in the development of the material is reflected throughout.
“For example, respect comes very strongly in our culture and some of the students today that are Inuit or bilingual don’t recognize how very, very important it was with our ancestors. The Aulajaaqtut modules have elders interviews where they actually share their stories and experiences of what they were taught and how they were taught with respect,” said Curley, adding the modules provide key knowledge to build identity and helps build students’ confidence.
Willard says Curley is probably one of the most enthusiastic supporters of Aulajaaqtut and bilingual language education.
“There have been times I’ve been travelling to different communities Michelle has taught in, where I have students maybe waiting on me at the store or restaurant. I ask them if they’re still in high school and they say, ‘yes,’ I ask them what their favourite subject is. In the communities where Michelle was often I was told it was Aulajaaqtut,” said Willard.
She then asks them why.
“They were very frank to tell me about the fact that Aulajaaqtut helped them with a really difficult time in their life, helped them to know who could give them some help, and helped them to talk about things they wouldn’t normally have talked about. They were really open about that,” said Willard.
Big topics age-appropriate
But Curley isn’t only a teacher. She’s also a mother and she’s seen the positive effects of Aulajaaqtut on her son.
“He’s taking Aulajaaqtut 11 right now and the course has a practicum project that a student needs to complete to learn how to be independent with employment. My son is a very quiet, shy child. A teacher guided him and he did his practicum at a store. That helped him to open up, to communicate with other people in public, and gave him more confidence,” said Curley.
“And recognizing his own confidence, to say, ‘I can do it. I can go out and get a job.’ Literally, before he did this program, I could say, as a mother, I had no hope he was going to pursue any job because of how quiet he was. As a mother, I was so proud of what he had done with a program in the school.”
Curley fully realized how successful Aulajaaqtut can be.
Willard also recognizes that some parent may feel the program is not academic, so not as important as the academic courses.
“But the truth is, if kids aren’t healthy socially, emotionally, physically … If they’re not taught the skills to help them establish a healthy lifestyle or to deal with difficult situations in life or to plan for the future, then all the academics in the world are not going to help that child,” she said.
Language and culture are also instrumental in developing healthy students.
“Whether we borrow some or adapt (curriculum) from other places or whether we’re developing it from scratch ourselves … We have an IQ curriculum foundation that was done very much on purpose by the folks that were originally in this division in 2000, along with the elders, in order to support a solid foundation no matter what the subject, no matter what the learning that is required,” said Willard.
Willard adds that health and wellness – physical, emotional, social or mental – is important right from birth to death.
“So those big topics are taught so that they’re age-appropriate. Let’s say in Grade 6, healthy bodies also involves getting to know more about puberty. That obviously is quite different by the time they’re in Grade 12,” she said.
Physical wellbeing is taught in physical education across kindergarten to Grade 12.
The following theme units are also taught: self-awareness, relationships, body systems, disease prevention, food identification/ nutrition, personal and environmental safety, accident prevention, first aid, dental hygiene, families, human development – puberty at Grade 5 and 6, abuse prevention, drugs, environmental health, growth patterns, decision making, teen decisions, lifestyles and healthy sexuality.
Curley says she’s very ready to dig into developing new curriculum.