Oct 31, 2017
Posted in: SUNTEP
By James Oloo
We recently sat down with Helen Germann, a high school teacher and graduate of the Gabriel Dumont Institute’s Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP), to discuss her experience as a SUNTEP student and how SUNTEP prepared her for her current career.
Helen started by honouring her Mom Louise Berthelette who was from a French-speaking family in St. Boniface, Manitoba and did not know how to speak English until the age of 16. She moved to Regina in her early adulthood, and later to North Battleford where Helen was born and raised.
As Helen recalls her childhood, “Growing up, I knew that I was Métis.” However, “I never understood what it meant to be Métis, nor did I know anything about Métis culture.” This started to change when Helen, who was then working at a high school in North Battleford as an Educational Assistant, heard about SUNTEP from “a few of my lifelong friends who had previously graduated from SUNTEP.” Helen applied and was accepted into the SUNTEP program.
“It wasn’t until I attended SUNTEP that I was able to really delve into Métis history and culture. In fact, my Grandmama Giselle Berthelette encouraged me to put together a portfolio regarding my experience and what I had learned in the teacher education program, and I was able to share it with our entire extended family.”
Helen regards her time at SUNTEP as a turning point in her life. “The most inspiring part of being in SUNTEP is that it helped my extended family grow closer, through my research in our lineage and history. It reconnected and educated more than just myself. Further, because of the opportunity SUNTEP gave me, my own family has benefitted and my sons are motivated to aim higher in life.” Helen graduated with a bachelor of education degree from SUNTEP in 2010 and became the “first person on my Métis side of the family to obtain a university degree.”
Now a teacher at the Living Sky School Division in North Battleford, Helen stated that she always knew that she wanted to be a teacher. “I loved working at the school and with children.” But realizing that dream involved a lot of sacrifice. As she recalls, “I commuted daily to the University of Saskatchewan to attend classes, while raising two young sons.” The driving distance between Saskatoon and North Battleford is about 140 kilometers each way.
Helen maintains that “Attending SUNTEP was one of the best decisions I ever made. SUNTEP faculty and staff were extremely knowledgeable and supportive. We were like a family.” This was especially important for many students like her who were new to the city and did not have close friends or families. She continued, “SUNTEP was a place where we all felt at home, we belonged.”
A teacher since graduating from SUNTEP, Helen stated that “My employment secured a better life for my family. I am also proud to model the importance of post-secondary education for my sons and students. I speak of SUNTEP often to my high school students.”
In discussing how her life changed for the better because of her teacher education degree, Helen states that she has and continues to recommend SUNTEP to her students, friends, and relatives for several reasons. “First of all, SUNTEP provided us with several student-teaching opportunities in the K-12 school system. This allowed us to develop hands-on experience that in turn gave us an advantage to securing employment after graduating.” She continued, “As an Indigenous teacher, I am confident and able to incorporate an Indigenous perspective into most of the curriculum I teach. I feel blessed to be able to give the excitement and knowledge back to the youth in my community, and more specifically connect closely with our Indigenous students.” Helen noted that for Indigenous students, having an Indigenous teacher has many advantages that lead to positive educational outcomes.