Lax Kw’alaams builds its future with culturally relevant education

Community-wide Earth Day event is part and parcel of the Coast Tsimshian Academy’s unique education

Karaoke and laughs were in the air Friday afternoon as students, teachers and visiting community members at Lax Kw’alaams Coast Tsimshian Academy headed home in the sun after an afternoon of Earth Day celebrations.

That vibrancy is a part of daily life for the approximately 160 students at the independent K-12 school, and reflects the institution’s guiding philosophy: helping students become good citizens equipped with academic, technical and social skills that will help them along the way.

“We know that math and literacy are important, but they’re only two things,” said the school’s principal, Kelly Rambeau. “We’re teaching kids to be lifelong learners. Giving them good skills to respect each other. Teaching them how to share. Giving them all these opportunities.”

Those opportunities aren’t lacking. Two years ago, the school moved into its current location: a new airy building with the space, equipment and teaching staff needed to offer classes all the way to Grade 12.

READ MORE: Lax Kw’alaams school celebrates first graduates

The new school was spearheaded by the Lax Kw’alaams band to provide children in the community with a quality culturally relevant education. Before the new school opened, students had to complete high school in Prince Rupert — a 25-minute drive and a 45-minute ferry ride away. Funded through a combination of federal allocations and other grants, the school’s size and independence makes it easier for teachers, administrators and community members to support students.

“We can help them succeed in ways that a larger school, or a more urban school might not allow,” said high school English teacher Cora Barak. “The school offers an opportunity for the students to see themselves succeeding in this community, and beyond the community.”

For instance, when a student planned on applying to a nursing program and needed a credit in Chemistry 12, the school offered the course. Or when four students wanted to learn how to maintain industrial facilities, the school arranged a work-learn placement for them maintaining the local fish plant.

Being in Lax Kw’alaams, elders and other community members are also able to help teach and participate in day-to-day life at the school. Supported by a curriculum that tries to ground students in their history, language and identity, a lot of learning also happens outside the classroom, when the school becomes a gathering point for the community.

READ MORE: Lax Kw’alaams members celebrate skills graduation, momentous life turnarounds

“It’s really the heart of the community,” said Barak. “It’s hard to get the students to leave at the end of the day. Every night, you’ve got basketball going until 10:00 p.m., we have swimming lessons, we have adult education classes.”

The school’s location makes it easier for teachers and administrators to best support students’ education as they work through challenging periods in their lives.

That includes in-school childcare, a breakfast program and an adult education program to give community members seeking a high school degree an opportunity to complete one. For Rambeau, offering programs like these to support students as they mature are fundamental to the school’s success, giving students knowledge that will support them throughout their lives.

“Teaching is about building relationships and helping kids have positive relationships they will be able to use as they grow up,” he said.

“They’re going to be the future leaders here. They’re the ones that are going to go out and advocate for the community, so we’re trying to teach them to be well rounded. I’ve never worked in an area that’s had more support, more commitment from teachers and students that have seen more growth because of a lot of things we’ve implemented. It’s exciting.”



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Students head out to clean up the streets in Lax Kw’alaams in the afternoon of April 27. (Marc Fawcett-Atkinson / The Northern View)

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