EXSHAW – While the future of Exshaw School remains up in the air, two local teachers are not holding anything back in the classroom.
Kayla Dallyn and Genevieve Soler will be heading to Ottawa to officially receive the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching on Monday (Jan. 20) after the educators partnered up with elders from Stoney Nakoda, artsPlace and the University of Calgary to create a unique learning experience for students.
“It’s a huge recognition," said Soler.
"I’ve been working in schools for almost 20 years and there are a lot of incredible projects that are happening all the time, but I think at this particular time, being able to work with the incredible elders and knowledge keepers of the Nation – it just sheds a new light on the beauty and the power that lies in that community that we don’t always hear about.”
“There’s so much power and beauty in Morley – it’s an honour for me to help bring it light.”
Dallyn echoed Soler’s sentiments, saying the experience itself added value to her own life.
“It’s a huge honour to be nominated for a project that already added so much value to my life,” said Dallyn.
“It was the project that just continued to grow and everybody who heard about it wanted to be involved, or to help. To be recognized for something that was already so collaborative and beautiful is just a huge honour.”
The two educators had students work with elders and community members to research a hero from their family's past after being inspired by an exhibit at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff.
The students eventually sculpted their heroes in clay and the works of art they created were featured at artsPlace in Canmore as an exhibit for National Indigenous Peoples Day.
Now the sculpted heroes live on a shelf at Exshaw School, but Dallyn said she’s hopeful a museum, or other organization, might put them in a permanent exhibit.
She said each hero comes equipped with a scan code that links listeners to an audio clip by students telling their history. It was the enthusiasm in the students that Dallyn said really made the project.
“Students were really motivated to do their best work on this project to honour their ancestors and to honour their elders,” said Dallyn.
“They really felt that it was important work they had to do, that they had to be there – they had to show up and they wanted to impress their elders, their community. They really just stepped it up – it was really cool to see the transformation from beginning to end. I think in the end they were really proud of themselves and they did more than they even thought they could.”
It was this enthusiasm, Soler said, that made the project so beautiful.
“Both the elders and the children were so excited when we’d set up these afternoons together,” said Soler.
“It was pretty beautiful. To be surrounded by three elders, for example, one student to work through the generations of their family and their lineage … There was a real level of excitement and engagement. And attendance was great those days, so it shows when you design learning opportunities for kids that are meaningful and are real that kids can connect to, kids are going to want to come to school, and they’re going to love being at school, and they’re going to learn that learning is relevant.”
According to a press release sent from Canada History, the two will receive their award at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.
“Teachers Kayla Dallyn and Genevieve Soler of Exshaw School, in Exshaw, Alberta, used sculpture, along with oral histories, and conversations with elders, to help their Grade 4 students from Stoney Nakoda First Nation reclaim the stories of their ancestors,” the release said.
“For their efforts to engage and inspire their students, the teachers will jointly receive the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, will present the award on Jan. 20, 2020, at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.”
In addition to this, Soler and Dallyn will spend Sunday (Jan. 16) presenting at the Canada’s History Forum, a day-long event.
"For me, I just dedicate the award to the Stoney heroes that we all got to know a little bit better, but also to the Stoney elders that came into our school every day," said Soler.
"The people who are willing to share the stories, put aside any pain, or heartache, or trouble they may have had in school and walk into a school to share what they know is important for their children to learn – to me they are the true heroes."
Visit canadahistory.ca to watch a livestream of this event.