?aq’amnik Education Centre opening a happy celebration
There was a great sense of celebration and happiness during the August 23 grand opening of the ?aq’amnik Education Centre, held at Aq’am’s Gathering Circle. (See photo presentation below.)
A host of local and regional dignitaries, as well as VIPs associated with the establishment and construction of the new pre-fabricated school, built in a matter of days earlier this summer.
An opening prayer, songs by The Sookenai Singers and speeches by dignitaries, along with traditional dance and a host of special honours bestowed to people involved in the school project preceded a special ribbon cutting conducted by Aq’am Chief Cheryl Casimer and school principal Michael Derech.
“?aq’amnik Elementary has been offering quality educational programming to the community for over 25 years. This new facility will provide additional opportunities to expand our educational programming and services to better meet the needs of our community and to meet the goals and objectives set out in our long term strategic plan,” Casimer stated.
Derech, who has worked in the community for 12 years, said he is “a little bit overwhelmed” by the new structure, comprised of 13 modules that make up the 10,000 square foot, two-storey building. The speed at which the ATCO Sustainable Communities building was constructed was shocking (two days), Derech said, adding it will serve the Aq’am community nicely for many years and is a major step up from the old patchwork facility.
“This new building is a great example of how ATCO’s project expertise combined with our experience in creating successful Aboriginal partnerships can really make a difference in these communities,” stated Boris Rassin, president of ATCO Sustainable Communities.
Kootenay-Columbia MP David Wilks, attending on behalf of the Honourable John Duncan, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, said, “The Harper Government is taking concrete steps to improve on-reserve learning environments and, in turn, improve educational outcomes for First Nation students. A good education is key to positioning First Nation students to get jobs and achieve the success and prosperity they seek and Canada needs.
“Our Government is proud to have partnered with the St. Mary’s Band to help the next generation of First Nation students achieve their educational goals. We believe that good education and a growing economy go hand in hand and investing in schools on reserve will lead to healthier, more self-sufficient communities.”
Working with community partners and putting in their own money powered the project forward, Wilks said, noting there are about 2,000 aboriginal communities waiting for funding help to build new schools in Canada. And Aq’am’s school project was listed at about 1,400. However, taking matters into their own hands and finding partners such as ATCO helped convince government to provide funds in a timelier manner.
Michelle Shortridge was singled out by Casimer and others involved with the project as a lynch-pin in the project, which will accommodate about 50 students in Kindergarten to Grade 7, many of whom were in attendance for the grand opening. The new facility, located beside the beautiful St. Mary Church, doubles the space previously available. Additionally, the school will features a biofuel heating system that burns wood chips.
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