Immersion Program Builds on First Year's Success


Story and Photos by Amikogaabawiikwe (Adrienne Benjamin)

The Ojibwe language staff at Nay Ah Shing Schools has been working hard over the last two years to implement a continuation classroom that complements the Wewinabi Miskwaanakwad Immersion Classroom.
Ojibwe Language Coordinator LeAnn Benjamin has been at the helm of seeing this project from dream to reality. In talking about the infancy of the project, LeAnn recounted, “I really wanted to start a kindergarten immersion classroom, and I didn’t know that Amanda (Nickaboine-Meyer) had been dreaming of it too. We started talking about it and planning it more and more until it became a reality.”

The kindergarten class began last year with the help of Dustin Burnette and Lisa Clemens from Waadookodaading Im- mersion School in Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO), Wisconsin. They have been crafting curriculum and translating existing work- sheets that are used in English-speaking classrooms for the immersion classroom. They have been a huge help and have been willing to come back as needed to help in the implementation phase. This year the team grew the immersion classroom to include first grade. “After the first year I was gung ho about it and now after adding on first grade, we want to build up our resources and curriculum a bit before we move on any further,” LeAnn shared.

The teaching team, made up of Amanda Nickaboine-Meyer, Aanii Aubid, and Steve Satterlund, have been an integral part of the process. They all three bubble with passion and joy when they talk about the classroom and why it is important to them individually.

Aanii, a Mille Lacs Band member, shared this: “I just want to make sure that kids grow up to know the Ojibwe language. It’s always been important to me. I don’t want it to become extinct. I want to pass on the language and have it be used every day. That’s my dream. There are so few speakers here anymore, and that’s scary.”
Steve, an LCO descendant, shared his story: “I was raised ‘white’ in a small town in Wisconsin, and I never knew this part of me until I met my wife Maia in 2008. I started working with John P. Benjamin in 2016 and started to really understand and learn. Once I started understanding, I started to realize that maybe I could teach it too. I didn’t think I would teach it so soon, but I am now and that’s OK. I love it.”

Amanda, a Mille Lacs Band member, also shared her journey of learning: “I started as a teacher trainee in the spring of 2013. I grew up knowing nothing about language and culture. I took a class or two in college, but in high school I had nothing. I always felt that something was missing, and once I started the trainee job, I realized how cool it was and that it was what I truly wanted to do. It’s driven me. I followed that dream and ended up getting my teaching license from Bemidji State University and here I am now, a certified teacher in an immersion classroom!”

The classroom is kindergarten and first grade combined, with four first-graders and five kindergartners. Three of those kindergartners came from the Wewinabi immersion classroom. To the teachers, the grasp those three youth have on the Ojibwe language shows the importance of consistency in language learning over time.

“I’m sad to send my kids to the next class, but I know that we can’t keep them or continue their learning in our classroom because of current capability and capacity," Amanda added. "We give kids different opportunities. We show many ways to solve problems. They may not get that in other classrooms."

When talking about the hardships that the staff faced along the way, LeAnn shared, “I learned that you should just go for it. People kept cutting me down and saying that we didn’t have enough resources to do it. Some good advice that I was given was that you can’t wait for permission. (Laurie Harper told me that.) You can’t wait for things to happen, you just have to have the faith to see it through and see what happens.”

LeAnn finished with these wise words: “We are a people that if we lose our language, we lose our identity, culture, ev- erything. If we lose all of our speakers, who will send us on to that next stage of life when we pass on? Who is going to name our kids? Who will know the songs? I just want the Ojibwe language to thrive and to keep growing and growing.”

With the hard work and dedication of LeAnn and her staff, they are most definitely giving it a fighting chance.

Miigwech, Nay Ah Shing immersion staff and LeAnn, for all you do!

Photos: Ojibwe Language Coordinator Leann Benjamin, above, is working with teachers Amanda Nickaboine- Meyer, Aanii Aubid, and Steve Satterlund, right, to bring the immersion program to the next level.