Second year of First Nations spelling bee spells success
- EFN Staff | February 15, 2017
Mastering literacy is a skill that creates confidence. What better way to ignite a fire of learning than through competition? That’s exactly what the First Nations Provincial Spelling Bee has been doing for youth across Saskatchewan.
Pauline Favel, President Saskatchewan Region (Spelling Bee of Canada), compares literacy training with the training of athletes. “When we give support and guidance to natural born athletes, we foster and develop their skills and they excel. It is no different with literacy. We want to prove to these kids, and the public at large, that they are very bright and they can shine if given the opportunity.”
“Our dream/vision was to create the venue where we could bring all the First Nations students from across Saskatchewan together to compete in this unique and innovative literacy competition.” Last year was the first time the FNPSB ran the competition and it was met with tremendous success. “Everyone had a good experience with the spelling bee. The kids were very engaged and studied really hard.”
First Nations youth from all over Saskatchewan competed in three categories – primary, junior and intermediate. Canspell provided the format and the words that are used across Canada. It was a great way to “take the kids to a higher level” remarked Favel. “We were able to see the kids compete up to the best of the best in the Province. We said, why stop there? Let’s take the kids to Toronto to compete nationally at the Spelling Bee of Canada (SBOC) Championships.”
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On May 15th 2016, the three first place winners William Kaysaywaysemat Jr. – Chief Kakewistahaw School, (Primary Age), Makayla Cannepotato – Chief Taylor Elementary School (Junior Age), and Alexander Johansson – Saulteaux Heritage School (Intermediate Age) attended the SBOC and proudly represented Saskatchewan. Of the 30 Regions from across Canada that attended, the FNPSB team were the only First Nations team represented at this national competition. “The experience was more than we ever imagined.”
Cecile Smith is a FNPSB committee member and sees the spelling bee as a great tool to get parents involved with their kid’s learning. “I was so excited to see our kids use this to further their education and to see how engaged the parents really were. Our parents are so competitive!” Cecile says she “pushed her way in” to become a committee member because of how valuable the spelling bee is for those who participate. “For me it was so fulfilling because this is what our First Nations kids are all about. We got to see them at their best - working hard, gaining self-esteem and developing study skills along the way. We’re challenging our kids to believe they can be higher, that they can reach their potential.”
It takes a lot of effort and perseverance to build a provincial competition from the ground up. FNPSB relies on sponsorships and donations to make the spelling bee a reality. Pauline suggests “it’s really about how we as First Nations people are prepared to respond to literacy. We could say there is no money and let that be a barrier. But we want more for our kids. We must think outside the box and not let finding the dollars stop us. It takes people who want to make a difference to build a program from zero.” The sponsors of the spelling bee are the ones who turn dreams into reality. “This year we wanted to make sure that our sponsors have the opportunity to become more involved. We are inviting them to commit to acting as officials and to be up there with our kids to see the impact of what we are doing first hand.” For those who agree, a full day of training is being provided to become a judge. Raising money to support sending the winners to compete nationally again this year is a high priority for FNPSB.
Ultimately the FNPSB is hoping to turn this into a National First Nations spelling competition. “We have something that’s very well received and creates such a positive impact in the lives of the kids who compete.” This year’s competition will be held on Friday, March 24, 2017 at St Mary’s School in Saskatoon. It is free to attend. Come out and support these talented, hardworking kids.