Delegates at the Chief Atahm School ground-breaking ceremony Monday, March 4, from left to right: Francois Atkinson, Manager, Building Structural Associate Engineering; Jerry Andrew, Adams Lake Indian Band (ALIB) Interim Director Public Works & Infrastructure ALIB; Melissa Heinrick, Structural Engineer Associate Engineering; Kelvyn van Esch, Capital Management Officer, Indigenous Services Canada; Joe Kiss, President, Modular Solutions Horizon North; Cliff Arnouse, Kukpi7 (Chief) Adams Lake Indian Band; Elaine Jules, ALIB Tkwemiple7 (Councillor); Mel Arnold, MP for North Okanagan Shuswap; Brandy Jules, ALIB Tkwemiple7 (Councillor); Rob Matthew, ALIB Principal & Director of Education; Steven Teed, ALIB Tkwemiple7 (Councillor) . Missing from photo: Gina Johnny, ALIB Tkwemiple7 (Councillor); and Shelley Witzky, ALIB Tkwemiple7 (Councillor). (Karen Everard photo/ALIB Communications Department)

School adds strategies to fight extinction of Secwepemc language

Chief Atahm School expansion to accommodate students up to Grade 10 and language centre

The expansion of Chief Atahm School means much more than extra space for students.

It will mean more opportunities to learn the Secwepemc language, more opportunities to become grounded in Secwepemc culture and more capacity to create curriculum materials.

Following the March 4 groundbreaking for a new building to expand the existing immersion school, Rob Matthew, school principal and acting director of education for the Adams Lake band, explains the new building will include students up to Grade 10 as well as a language centre. The language centre would house the people and technology working on curriculum development.

After creating the school’s own curriculum materials on language and culture for the past 25 years, Matthew says, “We would like to have a nice professional facility to produce quality learning materials for our kids.”

Related: Chief Atahm School in Shuswap launches Secwepemc language game series

Chief Atahm is a parent-driven school.

“The parents want to extend our program and the values in our program higher – that’s why they want to keep the kids a little longer so they don’t lose the language, and they see value in the strong cultural identity… That’s something that we ask our former students, what do they remember. They say, the strength of knowing who you are. It helps them deal with life issues in high school and as adults.”

The school currently provides immersion from nursery to Grade 4, with a heavy emphasis continuing in middle school. It’s hoped a total of 95 students will attend in the fall.

The cultural component is daily for all grades, Matthew says.

“We live and breathe it.”

He expresses much appreciation for the elders who have committed so many hours and years to help teach the students language and culture.

“They’re so inspiring, they say, don’t give up.”

Read more: 2016 – Funding for Chief Atahm School

Despite all the efforts to retain the Secwepemc language, it is still endangered. To combat the loss, the school also has an affiliation with Simon Fraser University to teach adult immersion. Ten students have committed to becoming fluent and are working on their 15th course now, which will go towards a proficiency certificate and diploma.

“If we can do it right we will have a degree in our language which would ladder to a B. Ed (Bachelor of Education),” Matthew says, meaning the students could become teachers of the language.

“It’s our own language and our own culture which is endangered so we have to make time to teach it, enjoy it and pass it down… We believe we are defined by our language and our land.”

The school expansion is expected to be complete in time for the new school year beginning in September

Matthew is inspired by the words of a man he describes as a great educator.

“The past is past… Tomorrow hasn’t been decided.”


@SalmonArm
marthawickett@saobserver.net

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Coming soon, the Chief Atahm School Expansion and Secwepemc Language Centre in Chase. A groundbreaking ceremony was held on March 4, with the new building expected to be ready for the new school year in September. (Karen Everard photo/Adams Lake Indian Band Communications Department)

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