Monday, December 15, 2014

Final Exams & The Nutrition North Controversy

Full Moon
Preparing a final exam requires a lot of time, effort, and planning.  I didn't realize just how much until I became a teacher.  I divide the process into three stages: research, writing, and review.  In the first phase, I go back and review everything I've taught and decide what to include on the exam and what to leave out.  (You want to ask everything but you can't because your students have other exams to complete and doing so will overload their minds).  Once I have a clear plan, I move on to the second phase and write the exam.  I edit and change things as I go.  I also put together an answer key to make marking easier and less time consuming.  The third stage requires me to create review lessons filled with activities & handouts for students to complete and study.  While planning these review lessons, you don't want to give too much away, otherwise the exam just becomes a worksheet.
The second week of December was all review for my Grade 10 & 11 Social Studies classes.  I had to work late into the evening on the weekend to get everything ready.  The photocopiers in the staff workroom were my best friends.  To maintain student interest I pumped out any kind of review activity I could think of: word searches, crosswords, card matching exercises, even jeopardy!  The variety appeared to go over well with my students.
The Grade 10s wrote their final exam on December 11th and the Grade 11s wrote theirs on December 12th.  I corrected the exams over the weekend and inputted the marks into the school's database.
My Grade 12 students presented their Social Studies projects to a panel of judges on December 11 & 15 after school.  The judges consisted of myself, the principal, and two Inuk teachers.  The project replaces the old departmental exam and students are required to pass the project, as well as the regular class work to be awarded academic credits.  Each student was given twenty minutes to present their topic, essay, product, and answer the judges' questions.  The product can be anything that enhances the project, like a video, community event, website, grant proposal, model, or radio show.  Most of my students did video and slide show presentations. 
A variety of topics were presented, such as: global warming and its effects on the Inuit way of life; the role of art in Inuit society; radio in the north; and the military leadership of Joseph Stalin.  At the end of the presentations, I congratulated my students for conquering their fears of public speaking, and thanked the judges for taking the time out of their busy schedules to listen and mark the presentations.

Around this time, an important news story from the north gained national attention, prompting sharp criticisms and fierce debates in Canada's House of Commons.  APTN produced a video news story called Wasting Away, which documented the food insecurity problems of Nunavut.  Since northern communities are isolated and spread over vast distances, food is frequently airlifted in.  The cost of shipping leads to healthy foods being raised to prices that are unaffordable for many Inuit families.  To beat the high costs, Wasting Away showed Inuit families in Rankin Inlet scrounging for food at the local garbage dump, and calling the local radio station, asking to borrow money.  Many parents go hungry for days because they give all the food they have to their children.  One of the main reasons why parents send their kids to school is because of the breakfast program. 
Hunting wildlife sounds like a reasonable alternative but it can be more expensive than buying groceries when you factor in the costs of bullets, gas, camping supplies, and of course, food to eat while you're out on the land.         
The current federal government implemented a program several years ago called Nutrition North, designed to pay the Northern Store & Co-op to offset their freight expenses and lower their prices for consumers.  The Office of the Auditor General recently released a report stating that there was no way to determine if the $60 million dollar program was being effective.  This, along with the APTN story, caused an uproar in the House of Commons with opposition MP's criticizing the federal government's lack of responsibility, oversight, and compassion for the Inuit.  The uproar intensified when Nunavut Conservative MP Leona Aglukkaq was photographed reading a newspaper instead of answering questions about the problem.  She later apologized for her behaviour but the damage to her image was done.  Several local Inuit told me how shocked and disappointed they were upon hearing about her antics.    
I see these outrageous prices while I shop at the Northern Store & Co-op in Arctic Bay.  There are hundreds of pictures already posted on the popular Facebook group Feeding My Family and more are added every day.  Whenever someone shares their frustrations over the high food prices, I tell them to take (a) picture(s) of the item(s) & price(s) and post it/them to the Facebook group.    
I have been told that going to the dump to look for food happens in all Nunavut communities.  I had known that people go to the dump to look for spare parts and other items but food never crossed my mind.  Up here, the garbage dump is also called "Canadian Tire" because you can find anything & everything there.
The scandal has led to many responses from all corners of Canada.  Canadians are sending food to keep food banks in the north well stocked and Nutrition North has received more money from the federal government.  Hopefully, the program will be closely monitored by those in charge and food prices will be lowered to more affordable levels.  Companies should never be allowed to make money off the hardships of others.     

Motivated to do something about food insecurity, the high school students of the Inuit cultural class began a Random Act of Kindness project.  They planned and prepared several free lunch feasts in the Home Ec room for local residents.  I was told that many showed up.  The local RCMP also got involved by contacting their superiors in Ottawa and arranged for food and second-hand hockey equipment to be shipped to the community.  The non-perishable food and hockey items arrived on December 11.  Kataisie, the cultural class teacher, was very pleased by the success of the project and how the students took on most of the responsibilities.  She hopes that it will continue in the new year.       

The staff of Inuujaq School held a Christmas Potluck dinner on the evening of December 12.  Right after school, the teachers rearranged the high school science class to look more like dining room.  Decorations, lights, and a tree were also brought in to add a more Christmas-like appearance.  There were many dishes to sample; I was glad that I had a small lunch that day.  I was able to stomach two plates of food.  The teachers who participated in Secret Santa that week found out who their Secret Santa was and exchanged final gifts.

Everyone went home with full stomachs & satisfied appetites.    

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