Bala Avenue Community School held its inaugural “Our Dreams Matter Too” Walk on June 11 to show support for First Nations students. Inspired by Shannen Koostachin of Attawapiskat First Nation, Bala students wrote letters to the Canadian Government and ceremoniously walked through the community to mail those letters.
“The goal of this walk was to raise awareness of First Nations issues, particularly in education," said principal Lisa Beischlag. "Our students respond to social justice issues and what they want to see is students on reserves having access to the same quality of education that they experience.”
Beischlag said that the young Cree student Shannen Koostachin was the inspiration for this initiative. "Shannen used social media to mobilize young Canadians in highlighting the need for a new school for her community through her campaign Students Helping Students," noted Beischlag. In 2009, Koostachin was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize for her work in bringing the issue of aboriginal education to the fore. Sadly, she was killed in a car accident the next year when she was just 15.
A number of the Bala staff attended a symposium in mid-January about Attawapiskat. Grade 3-4 teacher Alison Baker read “Shannen and the Dream for a School” to her class and they collectively decided to pen letters about their own dreams for aboriginal education, learning about how to write persuasively in the process. Other teachers shared Shannen’s Dream with their students and followed suit.
Shannon Thunderbird, Bala’s Elder-in-Residence who attends important school events and celebrations and works with students and staff throughout the year, joined the walk as well.