University of Alberta launches pilot program offering hands-on education to aboriginal youth

WATCH ABOVE: A one-of-a-kind program to help troubled aboriginal youth is now getting more support. Jessica Kent has more on the University of Alberta’s Moving the Mountain program.

EDMONTON — A one-of-a-kind schooling model is now being offered at the University of Alberta with hopes of providing troubled aboriginal youth with hands-on education.

“It motivates me,” said 17-year-old Kirsten Threefingers. “It gives you a lot of things to do.”

Threefingers is one of 20 students enrolled in the ‘Moving the Mountain‘ program, which originated at iHuman in Edmonton, where it’s been offered for the last three years. Now the program is part of a three-year pilot project at the U of A – the only place in Canada to offer the program.

Moving the Mountain focuses on hands-on learning rather than traditional lesson plans and writing papers.

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“Individuals all over the world need this kind of program for kids that don’t learn in a linear pattern. In other words, they don’t learn in a traditional way and there’s millions and millions of kids like that,” said Wallis Kendal, the program facilitator at the U of A.

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“We’re not centering on things like, ‘Who were the last 12 prime ministers?,'” Kendal added. “We’re taking the things that we think are important to them, letting them choose what’s important to them and letting them learn what’s important to them.”

Moving the Mountain is offered to aboriginal youth aged 12 to 21 six days a week from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. Participants are asked to attend at least three days a week. Traditional education is worked into the activities, but students also learn practical tasks like cooking meals for themselves.

“If you’re on the streets or something you can just come here and work on things,” said Threefingers, who, until recently, was living in an inner city safe house for about three years. “I’ve learned so much. People are helpful.

“Before Moving the Mountain I was high anxiety,” she said. “I couldn’t cope with it. I would do drugs and drink a lot. I got involved with the wrong people. But after I got in, I stopped drinking, I stopped doing drugs. I’m five months clean and I feel happy. I don’t have anxiety anymore.”

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The U of A’s dean of education is extremely pleased to be offering the program. Randy Wimmer said it’s important for institutions to constantly be open to new teaching methods.

“I think there’s always the need to think about our practice as teachers and always think about as many different learning styles as possible,” Wimmer said. “The stars are lining up, particularly around aboriginal education and diversity in education. I think this is a tremendously exciting time for us.”

Moving the Mountain has been funded by iHuman in the past and currently receives in-kind funding from the U of A’s Faculty of Education and grant support from the Alberta Centre for Child, Family & Community Research.

With files from Jessica Kent, Global News. 

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