Classroom Experience May 8, 2024

Transforming Spaces: Teacher Leads Courtyard Revitalization in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation

Jocelyn Whalen is a member of the 2023 Gakino’amaage cohort and is completing the first of her second-year commitment teaching grade 5 in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation.


Throughout the year, she has been working with her school and community to breathe new life into a once-overlooked courtyard at the centre of the school, supporting plans and grant applications to transform it into a thriving center of cultural and educational enrichment.


Meet Jocelyn Whalen, a dedicated Gakino’amaage teacher helping to transform an existing courtyard space in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation.


In the heart of Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, Jocelyn Whalen, a passionate Grade 5 teacher at Otayitiskiwin Kiskinwahamakikamik (Footprint House of Learning and Teaching), is leading an inspiring initiative to revitalize the school’s courtyard.


With a background in Environmental Science and a decade of experience in nurturing green spaces, Jocelyn is supporting community efforts to transform the area into a thriving hub for the students at Otayitiskiwin Kiskinwahamakikamik.


Exploring, learning, and thriving: students at Otayitiskiwin Kiskinwahamakikamik embrace the vibrant courtyard space. Future plans include a native plant garden and mural painted by a local artist.


It all began with a conversation between Jocelyn and principal Ashley Boutin, a Gakino’amaage alumni and member of the 2020 cohort. Inspired by Ashley’s vision to enhance the outdoor space, the duo collaborated with community support to secure funding for the courtyard project.


Drawing from her expertise in obtaining grants, Jocelyn successfully secured funding from two sources: Learning For A Sustainable Future and the TD Friends of the Environment Grant. With assistance from Education Director, Nic Campbell, and enthusiastic community members, the project began to take shape.


While the project is still in the planning stages, the future courtyard will feature a mural painted by a local artist, along with rain barrels, benches, and rocks to symbolize the Seven Sacred Teachings. Additionally, plans include a food sovereignty garden where food can be grown for the school food services and pantry program. There will also be the addition of a pollinator garden out front of the school.


The existing greenhouse at Otayitiskiwin Kiskinwahamakikamik is set to undergo transformation, fostering a community-driven food sovereignty initiative.


The goal of the courtyard revitalization is not just to beautify the space—it’s about providing students with a meaningful opportunity to engage with their culture, the natural world and to integrate the space into their lessons. Jocelyn hopes that the courtyard will engage students in land-based learning experiences, where they can strengthen their pride and belonging.


As the project gains momentum, Jocelyn is filled with excitement about the possibilities it holds. She envisions the courtyard as a legacy project—one that will continue to evolve and inspire generations to come. From growing food for the community to creating a safe space for cultural expression, the courtyard represents a testament to the power of education to transform lives.


Students embark on an outdoor education walk, connecting with the land as they explore. Soon, their school courtyard will create opportunities for hands-on learning and interaction with the natural world.


In celebrating Jocelyn’s dedication to the courtyard revitalization project, we honour the resilience and ingenuity of educators everywhere. This Teacher Appreciation Week, let’s take a moment to recognize and celebrate the profound impact that dedicated teachers like Jocelyn, and her colleagues, have on their students and communities.


Are you a Canadian-certified teacher inspired by Jocelyn’s story? Learn more and apply to Go North with Gakino’amaage today!