Students and staff return to Cote school last week

A portion of the students of Chief Gabriel Cote Education Complex opened for the 2020-21 school year on September 29 with several changes designed to guard against the COVID-19 threat.

Upon entering the building, where Jonas Cote has begun his seventh year as principal, one is prompted with arrow markings on the concrete to use the doors on the right, while the doors on the left have similar markings requesting people use that route to exit. Inside, the floors of the hallways also have the markings dividing the flow of traffic in two distinct directions.

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One first comes to the reception desk, where the body temperature of each visitor is checked as each person is requested to fill out a short questionnaire designed to identify persons who may have had contact with the virus.

The numbers of students in each classroom is small and all are wearing either face masks or Plexiglass face shields. Hand sanitizing stations are everywhere and posters on walls encourage social distancing.

Helene Cote had only two students around a table in the Grade 1 class where she was using a large puppet to discuss antlers, and in the grades 2 and 3 classroom, students were seated in desks that were socially distanced from one another.

Jonas Cote was particularly pleased to talk about the “lodge” that was constructed immediately outside the building where Ron Severight conducts classes for the grades 10, 11 and 12 students, and a teepee located nearby that are being used for instruction.

The lodge is a separate building designed to be an environment similar to what students’ parents may have been taught in, Severight explained. It is a traditional setting hearkening back to the boomers’ era and contains furnishings and accents of the period.

“We want some of these antiques to be interactive,” he said, adding that the high school students had renovated the building with funds from the child and family services program at the Yorkton Tribal Council.

In the single room building are several antique-looking dining room tables, a sofa and a large, black wood-burning stove with a supply of wood nearby.

The lodge is heated in winter solely by the wood stove, the principal explained.

Shelves on the walls contain various examples of a time gone by, including a Brownie camera, tobacco tins, a Rogers golden syrup tin, coal oil lamps, jars of varying size and a battery-operated radio. It also contains “some technology,” including a computer and projection unit used for classes.

Outside a canvas teepee was recently erected and Principal Cote said that it is hoped it will stay up all winter so that it may be winterized and used for instruction.

The tour includes a stop at Janet Love Morrison’s classroom where results of her international club are displayed on several bulletin boards.

After teaching for 14 years overseas, Morrison is beginning her fourth year at Chief Gabriel and last year she had initiated the international club in which students began a correspondence, through letter and computer with students in France, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

“Our intent is to create an awareness of the world out there,” Morrison said, adding that through the year, the students met about once a week after school to learn about students in other nations.

She explained that last year, after having grown a number of tulip bulbs from the Netherlands, the students had sent three shoe boxes containing such “treasurers” as toy moccasins, favourite recipes and letters to the students in schools in the three European countries, and during the COVID closure, a box of similar “treasures” was received from students of the ACS (American Community Schools) International School at Cobham in the United Kingdom.

Included in the package was a letter from “Serene and Chloe” Grade 8 social studies students in Cobham.

“Let me start by saying thank you so much for your thoughtful gifts,” the letter says. “Our students loved seeing all of the items that you chose to share with us. There was such a variety of items for them to look at and the letters taught them a lot about your culture. We also watched your N’we Jinan music video for “Look at Me” in class. You did an amazing job. We were also impressed with your talent.

“The students are currently studying Indigenous peoples in social studies,” the letter says. “We are focusing on human rights and how throughout history the rights of Indigenous peoples have not been upheld. We started at the time of colonization and now the students are learning about the residential schools and forced assimilation in Canada, United States and Australia. Although we are in England, we think it is important for the students to understand what was done in the past and how these countries are still not honouring their promises.

“We asked the students, who are from all different countries and backgrounds, to bring something in that represented their culture,” it said. “We received a variety of items which we hope you enjoy looking through and reading the accompanying letters. Some of the students also sent recipes for you to try as well as a lot of tea (it is England after all).”

A letter from a Cobham student, which is posted on the bulletin board, says that because her heritage is El Salvadoran, she decided to send items from the different places she had lived, including a seashell necklace from Argentina to represent “the beautiful beach,” a guitar from Atlanta, Georgia where she first found her passion for guitar and music, and a set of American flag “scrunchies” that represent her love for the USA.

Many similar letters are posted to allow the students to read and enjoy. Also on the bulletin board is a miniature baseball bat, drawings and hand-made bracelets, flags of various nations and a miniature Eiffel Tower, keychains from Paris, a sweater, badges, coffee and a large Deutschland (Germany) banner.

“We hope to resume the international club this fall,” Morrison said. “We plan to use some of the recipes in the kitchen and will probably arrange for students to contact one another over Skype.”