Katie Van Ark started teaching grades 1-4 in Slate Falls Nation in September 2018. Before applying to teach through Teach For Canada, Katie taught from Kindergarten to grade 8, as well as a gifted program and mathematics. Katie completed a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education, with minors in Mathematics and French from Alma College, a Master’s degree in Gifted & Talented Education from Grand Valley State University, and a Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is originally from Michigan, USA.
One of my first questions before applying to Teach for Canada was about families. I knew from the start that if I were to go North, I would be going with my husband and our two daughters, ages 6 and 9. Teach For Canada staff was encouraging during the informational webinars I attended. They also connected me with a teacher who had brought her son with her. Like most experiences, though, there was no way of knowing exactly how things would work out until we arrived.
Slate Falls has turned out to be a wonderful match for our family. With the playground just across the street and the lake behind our apartment, the girls have many places to play. The other children have been very welcoming. Since the school classrooms are all multiage, my daughters can stay with their agemates and still be able to work on challenging material. Life on the reserve allows us to pursue a favorite family activity of being out in nature. We’ve visited the beach, enjoyed the community kayaks, and hiked along the boardwalk. Having our daughters with us has also helped my husband and I to get to know other community members – the children are a natural conversation opener.
Being prepared definitely helped our transition, which was a big one as we were moving from the United States. As part of the Summer Enrichment Program, Teach For Canada asked us to create self-care plans. After the Summer Enrichment Program, I had my family members write self-care plans, too. My daughters said they needed a comfy nest of blankets to burrow in when they were feeling stressed. We brought ALL their blankets and stuffed animals from home. (Hooray for vacuum space saver bags!) Since a relaxing evening bath was an important part of their normal routine, we also stocked up on bubble bath, special shower scrubbies, and soaps from Lush. Being open with my daughters about what culture shock was and how to deal with it also helped.
Life anywhere has challenges and we’ve faced a couple with our move. One challenge I didn’t expect was playdates. As a teacher, I need some time at the end of the day to relax in order to be at my best for the next day of teaching. As a mom, I want my children to be able to bring their friends home but my youngest child’s friends are also all my students. What is working for us is allowing playdates until 5:30 pm, after that any visitors need to go home so that we can have dinner as a family and then unwind.
With the onset of winter, figuring out activities for our weekly family date night tradition has required some extra thought, too.
On the reserve, options like going to a movie or the indoor water park don’t exist. Luckily, Chapters/Indigo and Scholastic ship for free, allowing me to order surprises like Harry Potter Lego sets and bath bomb crafting kits. Now we choose one of those activities or have a movie streaming night with lots of popcorn and candy.
Overall, our life here is one filled with small blessings, whether it is a gift of moose stew meat, a beautiful sunrise over the lake, or the many things in between. I love the small class sizes and multiage environment, both as a teacher and as a mom.
Bimaychikamah School offers so much that my children wouldn’t have experienced in their former school, including snowshoeing and trapping lessons.
I’m grateful that my family gets to share this opportunity to learn about and connect with another culture alongside me.