Indigenous preschool program earns national recognition

By Spencer Sterritt
November 6, 2018 - 5:54pm Updated: November 22, 2018 - 12:55pm

Tillicum Lelum and Qeq College staff say it's an honour to receive their award for the work they do preparing young children for the transition into kindergarten.Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW

NANAIMO — The transition from staying at home with family to going to the new world of kindergarten can be hard and upsetting for many children.

It's why Tillicum Lelum in Nanaimo started the Qeq College Transition Program five years ago. In the program, 40 mostly Indigenous kids entering kindergarten attend a relatively intense but fun four week preschool program to learn new skills and get used to the classroom environment.

“A lot of them, it seems, haven't been in a day care or anything like that,” Autumn Cooper with the program told NanaimoNewsNOW. “They'd normally be at home with their siblings, so it's getting them outside of their comfort zone. Just seeing them get used to being with other kids is a huge thing.”

For their efforts to make the first day of school as seamless as possible, Tillicum Lelum recently earned national recognition from Indspire, who work with schools and organizations to support programs across the country. 

The program was one of four recognized across Canada.

Qeq College coordinator Breana Curnow said students are expected to have many basic skills already under their belt by the time they reach kindergarten, but sometimes the required learning doesn't happen.

“Some kids have never held scissors before. So we'll put scissors out with the Play-Doh. They're holding really thick paint brushes or crayons and practicing going up and down, learning how to use glue sticks. Or being able to take your shoes on and off and hanging up your coat...things which are almost expected that you know in kindergarten.”

Each day of the four week program, kids are picked up and taken to one of four south Nanaimo schools where they'll learn for the day. After they eat breakfast, the kids play activities and are then grouped into smaller pods for more hands-on and intimate learning.

Curnow said it's amazing to see the students grow dramatically, especially when they're in their pods and quickly making new friends.

Qeq College doesn't end once the summer is finished. Curnow follows each student into their new kindergarten classroom and checks up on the kids once a week to make sure they're thriving in the new setting.

She said seeing the excitement on their faces when she comes to their classroom melts her heart.

“There's a look I get from some of them, of 'There she is, there's someone familiar, there's someone safe who I can trust.' I think checking in regularly and seeing their faces, even if it's just 15 minutes a week, is really important.”

Qeq College also helps the families and parents of children who are enrolled.

“A lot of our families have stresses besides entering kindergarten and that plays a huge role in their investment in their child's education,” Curnow said. “Knowing they have someone to attend meetings with or someone they can call and ask questions of really helps.”

Curnow and other Tillicum Lelum staff will also help families get in touch with doctors and services like the Nanaimo Child Development Centre if other resources are needed.

Qeq College is run in partnership with the Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District. It's one of dozens of programs run by Tillicum Lelum, who offer help through programs to those of all ages.


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