First Nations teacher program hopes to expand its roll-call

SASKATOON – A University of Saskatchewan (U of S) program for First Nations students pursuing an education degree hopes to greatly expand its enrollment in the coming years.

The Indian Teacher Education Program (ITEP) currently enrolls around 430 students at the U of S and five satellite facilities, according to its director, Orest Murawsky, who has been with ITEP in different capacities for almost all of its 40 year existence.

The program’s expansion to other communities in Saskatchewan and one satellite in the Northwest Territories was one way the program has previously grown its enrollment.

“I am very confident that we can expand ITEP to the communities we serve, and those communities will be the ones that we’re able to gauge of how large and how big ITEP can actually be,” said Murawsky.

“We reject more students than we accept and that’s the hard part,” said Murawsky.

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The program has produced roughly 1,500 graduates and boasts a near perfect job placement rate, according to Murawsky. He added that a lot of alumni go on to teach in First Nations communities across Saskatchewan.

“There’s some schools, First Nations schools, that our graduates are working in, where 80 per cent of the teaching staff and the administrative staff are graduates of ITEP,” said Murawsky.

Murawsky also added that many of the programs alumni go onto high profile positions away from the classroom.

Shelly Tootoosis graduated from the program in 1985 and taught in Saskatoon for 15 years. She is now the associate executive director for the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation.

“[ITEP] impacted my personal connections, because you do develop relationships and connections with people that were there and being an ITEP student goes beyond your four years on campus, or however long you’re on campus,” said Tootoosis.

Audrey Ben is currently in her final year of study with ITEP and says the program has made her the person she is today.

After taking over ten years off from her studies to raise nine children, she credits ITEP’s support system for helping her finish her education degree.

“Because they’re so caring, I was able to survive, to preserve,” she said.

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Murawsky hopes to expand the program to 500 students next fall and says he has already heard interest from two communities who want to establish ITEP hubs.

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