Bench Elementary SD#79 Cowichan Valley

School Name: Bench Elementary

School District: SD#79 Cowichan Valley

Inquiry Team Members: Sherry Gignac:, Sarah Simmons:, Baylee Frissell:, Natasha Ayers:,
Trina Mina:

Inquiry Team Contact Email:

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE Transitions (focus on Indigenous learner transitions)

Grade Levels: Intermediate (4-7)

Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Physical & Health Education, Science

Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Experiential learning, First Peoples Principles of Learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Developing a deeper understanding of place, community, family and land, to nurture a sense of pride or belonging for all students.

Scanning: Leading up to Spring Break, most of our focus learners were home due to COVID. Our scanning involved formal and informal interviews, and conversations with family and community members. Informal conversations were the richest way to come to know learners and get a holistic sense of the learners. Our Indigenous students are bright, curious learners, who do not see themselves reflected in the school, culture or resources. All of our learners were very interested in learning about local Quw’utsun culture, history and language. For example, our learners were sparked by Harold Joe’s teaching about how to behave respectfully and safely when you visit​ sacred ancestral sites (

Focus: We chose this area in the hopes that our focus Indigenous learners would see themselves reflected in the daily life and activities of school and feel a sense of belonging and have pride in their identity. To see the value of their culture and gifts being reflected in the work we do. To have opportunities for all students to listen to indigenous literature and oral stories that help them to develop a deeper understanding of their culture, community and land.

Hunch: Our school population is very economically privileged with relatively little cultural diversity and an emerging understanding of Quw’utsun Language, history & Knowledge. Our few Indigenous learners typically enter our K to 7 school in grade 4 after attending a local band school. Our hunch is that there is a cultural disconnect as these Indigenous learners transition from their band school to predominately Caucasian school. To compound this disconnect, the social dynamics have been deeply established for years. Belonging, identity and engagement, is daily a disadvantage and challenge. Teachers are shifting their practice to offer holistic and embedded FPPL in their daily classroom routines and curriculum. The concept that learning is holistic, reflexive, relational, reflective and experiential has become the lens in which we study all aspects of our curriculum, community, and land.

New Professional Learning: Cowichan Valley School District has offered many professional learning opportunities for both educators and learners this year, which our group as taken advantage of.
These include:
– Land-Place based learning; We are excited to have visited Ye’yumnuts and we look forward to learning more and teaching our learners about Ye’yumnuts. (Dr. Brian Thom Phd., Diane Hinckly, Cowichan Tribes) – Recommend their Pro-D and their publications “Explore the Salish Sea: A Nature Guide for Kids” by Joseph K. Gaydos & Audrey DeLella Benedict
– “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer
– “Embers” by Richard Wagamese

Taking Action:
– Teachers attended a workshop with UVIC Archeology Department & Cowichan Tribes on Ye’yumnuts, which is a sacred ancestral place of the Quw’utsun people. This experience helped bring the past to life and appreciate our invisible Indigenous history.
– Regular weekly time with our Quw’utsun Language & Knowledge advisors & Metis advisor. Focus: the relational & historical connections to the Salish Sea and traditional territory of the Quw’utsun people (i.e. Local stories & teachings connected to Salish Sea & Indigenous Ways of Knowing about Space)
– Incorporating rich, authentic texts (oral, written, visual i.e. Salish Sea, Trudy’s Rock Story, etc.)
– Weekly Hul’qumi’num language lessons with Indigenous resident elder, Dolly Sylvester (15 -30 minutes once a week via Zoom), follow up with this in class throughout the week.
– Indigenous plant and nature walk with Indigenous knowledge keeper, Adam Nicolas.
– Walks to Cobble Hill Mountain where we explored land-based and indigenous plant identification, and around the school community we looked at our connections to the land and historical and current perspectives.
– Worked with Coast Salish Artist, Stuart Paduagan – connected Coast Salish design to local creation story (Thunderbird and the Whale).

All of these activities helped bring the culture alive in authentic and accessible ways for all our learners. The combination of guests, indoor/outdoor learning and routine, were very well received by students and impactful.

Checking: Learners are now more willing to engage in conversations with a lens of Indigenous Worldview. There was a shift in how we (adult and student learners) see the grass, trees, ocean, people, etc – the interconnections. This was evident through conversation and reflection. The educators had a parallel focus to develop their understanding of Quw’utsun Language & Knowledge, and step outside of their comfort zone and put themselves in the role of the learner. With our enhanced understanding, we now feel more comfortable to do the work needed to deepen our understanding of Indigenous ways of knowing. We are building our network and competencies by asking challenging questions and reaching out to Indigenous community members. A goal was to embed the FPPL in the daily routines and make it a part of the classroom community and culture. We feel that we accomplished this. There were opportunities were we could artfully weave the Quw’utsun Language & Knowledge about the land and local places into everything we do in the classroom related to the curriculum and core competencies. Our understanding of what “community” really means is continually growing, in particular, recognizing the way the gifts of individuals and gifts of the land work together.

Reflections/Advice: The greatest impact was our time with the Quw’utsun Language & Knowledge advisors. Working together and building these relationships was impactful for all of us. The Quw’utsun Language & Knowledge advisors created an environment that allowed for us to be learners in this work, ask questions and seek greater understanding on how to approach this work with greater authenticity and compassion.

Next year, we look forward to continuing:
– this work by working with the archeology department at UVIC to develop curriculum, taking our students on regular visits, and inviting our colleagues into this work.
– our (staff & students) learning of culture through Language and History teachings from Quw’utsun Elders/Knowledge keepers, art workshops, storytelling, guest speakers, place-based learning, time in nature, etc.

Leave a Reply