Embracing Identity, Overcoming Obstacles, Igniting a Love of Learning

In Regina, Mother Teresa Middle School’s land-based curriculum and interventionist approach improves outcomes for Indigenous students
Apr 23, 2024 11:35 AM ET
Two photo's side by side of an adult and a child

Pride of self. Pride of identity. Pride of tradition.

Taught alongside standard subjects like math and history, culture is embedded in the land-based learning curriculum at Mother Teresa Middle School in Regina, and helps young learners—70% of whom are Indigenous—know and connect with who they are through a commitment to truth and reconciliation.

Here in the Saskatchewan capital, students pick sweetgrass, the sacred hair of Mother Earth, and learn smudging ceremonies for healing and peace.

Together with the community, they scrape buffalo hide, learning to honour the animal while creating something new with its skins. They fabricate colourful beaded accessories, which adorn their clothes while they drum and recount the stories of songkeepers.

“These programs cultivate a strong sense of cultural identity and pride,” says Evie Koop Sawatzky, Director of Development at MTMS. “How powerful it is to see kids singing out in Cree and giving back to their community. It not only encourages other students, but it encourages the Elders that these songs and these stories will continue.”

An independent Catholic school, MTMS offers free education to about 60 students in Grades 6 through 8. In addition to offering its land-based learning curriculum, the school operates using an interventionist approach, providing wraparound care beyond what a typical school provides—they offer counselling, mentorship, family support, transportation, and two meals and snacks a day. If a student needs glasses, clothing, or extra auditory care, the school steps in.

In a 2023 report, the provincial auditor explains that less than 44.7% of Indigenous students in Saskatchewan graduate from high school, which is why the school’s support doesn’t end after middle school.

“Our program is 11 years long,” she says. “Our greater mission is to help vulnerable students achieve high school graduation, and pursue post-secondary education if they choose, while also supporting their journey to find meaningful employment.”

But it’s during their three years in middle school that the students develop a strong foundation for school, work, and life habits.

“These are kids who are going somewhere and need support,” Koop Sawatzky observes. “They’re little seeds that are going to turn into something amazing. MTMS ignites a love of learning and empowers students to embrace their identities while overcoming obstacles.”

In support of MTMS’ important mission, Enbridge contributed a $110,000 Fueling Futures grant in late 2023—$50,000 in support of the cultural and-based learning program, $50,000 to help purchase a new school bus, and $10,000 for the school’s holiday fundraising campaign.

The school is a leader in Indigenous engagement, inclusion and awareness. We’re impressed with their work to shift awareness of Indigenous history, culture, rights, and inclusion, and empower youth at the same time.

Their mission aligns with our long-held commitment to strengthen relationships with Indigenous communities and advance reconciliation, as outlined in our Indigenous Reconciliation Action Plan.

One key to MTMS’ success is ensuring the students come to school. That’s why our funding of the new school bus is integral to supporting education. Frequently, transportation is a barrier to attending school. Families move around, and children transfer from school to school, falling behind each time and losing the connection with their peers and instructors.

“Some students at MTMS have attended 15 or more schools before they arrive,” Koop Sawatzky says. “These buses are really a lifeline between the students and keeping those relationships going for three solid years. I'll never look at a bus the same way again.”

The transportation service is just one way the school builds trust.

“The students know they can rely on us. They have a place that has their back. We want them to become all that they can be,” Koop Sawatzky continues. “Because of supporters like Enbridge, we are making a lasting impact.”