Jun 15, 2018
Posted in: SUNTEP
By James Oloo
We caught up with Deanna Pelletier, a graduate of the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP), to hear about what she has been up to since graduating. Deanna, who is from Regina, Saskatchewan, is a proud Métis mother of two. She works as an Indigenous Advocate/Teacher with the Regina Public Schools.
Reminiscing about her career as an educator, Deanna stated, “As long as I can remember I have always wanted to be a teacher! I constantly annoyed my little sister and made her play school with me. My parents bought a large chalkboard and I made a locker for my sister out of cardboard. I taught her the ABC’s and to write her own name.”
Meeting a supportive school guidance counsellor reinforced Deanna’s interests in the teaching profession. “I was fortunate enough to hear about SUNTEP through my high school guidance counsellor. The counsellor set up a meeting with a previous graduate of the program for me to meet and ask questions.” After meeting with the SUNTEP graduate, she liked “how supportive and motivating the atmosphere was at SUNTEP and decided it would be a perfect fit for me.” In 2003, Deanna graduated with a Bachelor of Education degree from SUNTEP Regina. She was 21 years old.
Even at a young age, Deanna was decided to be successful in life, and the way to do that was through education. As she puts it, “When I finished high school, I was the only one of my family members to get my grade 12 diploma and apply for university. My younger sister then followed in my footsteps and graduated from the SUNTEP program as well five years later. I like to think that I was a positive role model in her life showing her that she was able to succeed in her education just as I did.”
Years later, Deanna is still very intentional in her quest to reach out and be a positive role model to her students. “I learn from them as much as they learn from me,” she noted. “One particular memory stands out for me, I had a student move but through social media stayed in touch with his friends that still attend my school. He messaged his friend to show me a text saying: ‘I just want to thank you, Ms. Pelletier. I went from failing every class except math, to passing grade 10, and getting all my credits, I owe it all to you because to be completely honest I probably wouldn’t have passed if it wasn’t for you motivating me the whole time. Thank you.’”
Deanna continued, “When I get to watch the students I work with walk across the stage at the grad ceremony it literally brings tears to my eyes. I have had the pleasure and opportunity to watch them grow over the many years, earn their diplomas and become fantastic young adults.”
But the journey to the teaching profession was not always easy. As Deanna recalls, “University was a learning experience in itself having to navigate new academic classes in a scary and large environment. Meanwhile, I had to mature and find myself as a young woman.” She pointed out that “growing up in the city I always felt like something was absent from me as a whole! I often felt like I did not belong, feeling like I was trying to live in two completely separate worlds. I was constantly struggling with my own identity and where I fit in.” However, “SUNTEP helped me navigate the identity I was lacking and enabled me to be the person I am today. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to attend the program; it was a second home.”
SUNTEP students have the opportunity to work on their genealogies as well as study Métis history and culture. “I gained the knowledge about my Indigenous heritage and my traditional cultural background,” Deanna stated, noting that “I now have a chance to pass on my knowledge and experiences on to other young Indigenous youth who might feel as I did. I felt comfortable enough to ask questions and fortunate enough to learn from my mistakes.”
After graduating with her education degree, Deanna worked in England as a substitute teacher for a year and a half before coming back home and taking a position with Regina Public Schools. “I worked in the elementary school system for 10 years teaching a variety of grades and roles within the school. Currently, I am an Indigenous Advocate with Regina Public Schools working at the high school level and could not love my job more!”
Asked what she likes about her job, Deanna responded, “It is very rewarding working with youth and helping to guide them through grade 12 and transition to life after high school. In my current role, I have had the opportunity to talk to Indigenous youth about the importance of pursuing post-secondary education. I have introduced my students to current SUNTEP students. I’m proud to give them an opportunity to learn more and make an informed decision on post-secondary education, just as I did in my youth.” She continued, “Some of my students are the first in their families to finish high school, and to hear about the possibility of higher education. I can relate to them, so I can reach them and encourage them.”
Deanna concluded that, “I am most passionate about working with at-risk youth. I strive to be a role model and encourage them to follow their dreams, whatever that may be. I believe in building an honest trusting relationship with the students, families and their community. I always try to communicate with the caregiver to ensure they are aware of what is happening within the school with their child.”