Atikameg School brings learning back to the land

Atikameg School is bringing students back to the land by encouraging hands-on learning through their Feed the Children program. For the last two years, principal Jackie Sanders and teacher Darrell Fors have been incorporating land-based learning into the curriculum at Atikameg School.

Atikameg, meaning Whitefish in Cree, is a small community in northern Alberta, located 300 KM northeast of Grand Prairie. By being a more remote community, the principles of sustainability and land-based learning are important for the community.

The school has been growing garden boxes in their schoolyard for the past two years. They have grown a variety of vegetables, all of which the children are very excited about.

“They loved it,” explains Jackie. “They were out there in the garden, and they would come back and see if it was growing. It was good for them to see that.”

The students were responsible for planting and watering the vegetables and reaped the rewards of their efforts in the fall. The vegetables were divided up between the students to be taken home and enjoyed. This upcoming growing season, the school has plans to expand the garden to allow for more students to participate.

Another principle of land-based learning that is being incorporated into the classroom is hunting and fishing. The students were given fishing equipment and taught to fish by teacher Darrell Fors. He also demonstrated to the students how to descale and debone the fish. In science class, the students dissected a variety of hunted game to learn about the anatomy of the animals, and to also understand the life cycle of the animal.

“One time, he came with a beaver and was removing the pelt,” says Jackie. “And just like that, he had 30 kids sitting around him watching him because they like that hands-on learning.”

The school also grows hydroponic fruits and vegetables indoors during the winter. Students and staff grow lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, and beans, which they pollinate by hand with a paintbrush. The four different types of lettuce they grow can be snipped and will grow back, allowing students to take home lettuce to make salads.

The school has big plans moving forward. They will be planting a food forest nearby to teach students and community members the principles of permaculture. A food forest consists of perennial trees and vegetables that produce year after year. The school is in the planning phase this year, hoping that the trees and plants will produce over the next three years.

One of the biggest takeaways that she hopes her students learn from these projects is that they have learned to be more sustainable and to live off the land.

“Not all of our kids are going to be academic scholars, but this gives them another lifeline,” explains Jackie.

Sustainably growing food, as well as hunting and fishing animals, have excited the students at Atikameg School to learn and will continue to learn in future years.