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Sandra Dukarm’s Story

2022 Co-Winner of Natural Curiosity's Dr. David Suzuki Award for Excellence in Pre-Service Environmental Education

Sandra Dukarm is standing in front of a bush of pink flowers. Alexandra is smiling and looking towards the camera. Alexandra has shoulder-length blonde hair and is wearing a navy blue dress with a gold zipper down the front and a cream-coloured, knit shawl.

Sandra is a 5th-year B.Ed student at Vancouver Island University (at the Cowichan campus). She recently started her final 7-week certifying practicum in a wonderfully diverse class of Grade 1 learners. Sandra has a great passion for teaching Science at the primary level, and she makes an effort to connect all of her lessons to the First Peoples' Principles of Learning. If the opportunity becomes available in a few years, her dream (and ultimate goal) is to enroll in a graduate outdoor science program.

During her studies, Sandra had the privilege of completing a course in Elementary Science Curriculum & Instruction with a professor that made everything "click." Her professor showed future teachers that Science can be much more than the rigid, stereotypical, white-male-in-a-lab-coat, Western approach. Before beginning her journey as an educator, Sandra knew nothing about the rich world of Indigenous Science. She recently had the pleasure of listening to Mishkos Kenomagwen's The Teachings of Grass in a state of wonder. Sandra realized that the holistic and reciprocal nature of Indigenous Science balances perfectly with the Western Science that she grew up learning.

As an educator, Sandra's mission is to engage all of her students in learning through guided inquiries and rich outdoor learning opportunities. She purchased a set of Pacific Northwest Plant Knowledge Cards from Strong Nations and have used them extensively in all her practicum placements. Last year, she taught in a Kindergarten classroom. Sandra used the local Hul'q'umi'num language of the Quw'utsun Peoples throughout the day across the curriculum, and her class spent half (or more) of every day, rain or shine, outdoors in a forest on the school's property. Sandra and her students would go on nature walks and take time to observe the local environment with all their senses. She found that these Science lessons were the most impactful, and her students would be very grounded after spending time in nature. This teaching experience took place during the height of COVID-19 protocols. Her students were unencumbered by masks and felt most at ease when outdoors.

This year, Sandra's placement is at a school that does not have a forest on the property, and she feels a great sense of loss. However, her students still benefit from access to a school garden that they can explore and play in. The administration at her current school is highly supportive of and excited about teachers' ideas for incorporating Indigenous learning opportunities and inquiry. In the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation, Sandra will be infusing all her practice with reverence for the people that were here before us. She is in a class of young learners. Still, they must be made aware of Residential Schools, the paths we can take to heal our relationship with First Nations peoples and be immersed in an equitable and inclusive learning environment.

Recently, Sandra taught a Science lesson, where her and her students created a personalized land acknowledgement. She had her students reflect on the place they live in and learn about and the natural aspects of the environment they love (focusing on all the senses). They compiled all their ideas into their unique statement to post in our classroom, honouring the traditional unceded territory of the Quw'utsun Peoples that they are fortunate to call home. As a white teacher, Sandra plans to bring Elders into (or perhaps outside) their classroom to teach the next generation through their stories.

In these few words, Sandra hopes that she has conveyed who she is and who she hopes to be as an educator. She is honoured to be awarded Natural Curiosity's Dr. Suzuki Award.

"As an educator, my mission is to engage all of my students in learning through guided inquiries and rich outdoor learning opportunities. "

— Sandra Dukarm

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