On November 2, 2016, the Cree School Board held a press conference at the Sheraton Hotel in Montreal to officially announce the launch of the Cree Syllabics Virtual Reality (CSVR) project entitled “Niwîchewâka” (or “Niwîchâwâkan”). This innovative project is the first of its kind among First Nations schools in Canada and combines Cree language training and cutting edge virtual reality equipment to simulate the students’ learning experience by engaging them through Cree culture.
The school board partnered with Schoolu, a video game company based in Montreal that was co-founded by Cree filmmaker Ernest Webb. According to Webb, this project allows students to see their lives through virtual reality. “Niwîchewâka is bringing Cree education home, by putting our spirit and ourselves into these technologies, to help engage students”.
The press conference also served as an introduction to some of our programing, mainly Mikwichiyam, the arts concentration program, AYEP, the Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program and Niikaan, the video game concentration program.
On the panel were Chairperson, Kathleen J. Wootton, Director General, Abraham Jolly, Deputy Director Pedagogical, Serge Béliveau, Ernest Webb, co-founder of Schoolu, and David Hodges, Executive Director of the Mikwichiyam program.
The panel took this opportunity to discuss the strategic reasoning for implementing these concentration programs. As Mr. Jolly explained, “absenteeism is a major issue at the CSB, so we decided it was time to make changes for the future of our children”. He continues to explain that this new curriculum is an innovative way to attain our desired level of education, while not losing sight of our cultural roots.
Serge Béliveau, who initiated these concentration programs, is overjoyed with the students’ feedback and the academic results thus far. “These programs give students a means to get excited about school. It gives them a voice and allows them to experience art in a way that was never truly available previously”.
The media was interested in learning more about statistics and how these programs have helped increase the attendance rate. Both M. Béliveau and M. Joly were happy to share that the CSB is beginning to see an increase in attendance and will continue to see an even bigger increase in the next 5 years as the curriculum allows for better retention and academic success.
Our youth are getting excited about education, and that’s something truly something to write about!