Developing the teachers of tomorrow in northern Alberta

In a province like Alberta, where major universities are relatively few and far between, it can be tough to pursue your chosen career path while staying in your community. Enter the off-campus collaborative program.

The Collaborative Elementary Education Program, an innovative collaboration between Keyano College in Fort McMurray and the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Education, enables aspiring teachers to complete bachelor of education degrees while remaining in their community.

Now in its tenth year, the program was recently recognized with a 2016 Award of Excellence from the Colleges and Institutes of Canada, a national organization representing publicly supported colleges, institutes, CEGEPS and polytechnics in Canada and internationally.

Keyano College’s Dean of the School of Arts, Science, Business and Education, Guy Harmer, accepted the Gold award in the category of Program Excellence in Quebec on May 31.

Collaboration serves the community

Keyano Building
Keyano College in Fort McMurray, Alta.

Launched to help meet the need for elementary school teachers in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, this program allows students to complete their entire BEd degree at the Keyano College campus, which is located in Fort McMurray but serves the entire region.

“Keyano College is the only post-secondary institution in the region. Many of our students have work and family commitments that prevent them from leaving the community to pursue higher education,” says Tracy Boger, the coordinator of the program at Keyano College. “For these students, having access to a program like this is critical. It opens doors and creates opportunities for those who would otherwise not be able to pursue higher education.”

Students complete their first two years of university transfer programming as Keyano College students and their final two years as University of Alberta students, earning a University of Alberta degree upon completion. The collaborative aspect of the program is very important.

“Without the support from the Faculty of Education, Fort McMurray Public and Catholic School Boards, and Northland School Division, this program would not be the great success that it is today,” says Boger.

Innovation leads to impressive numbers

Graduates of the Collaborative Elementary Education Program currently make up much of the teaching force in the region, and this number continues to grow.

“The enrolment of our current cohort represents a 39 per cent increase from our last intake of students into the program,” says Boger.

The criteria for the Program Excellence Award focused on five categories: innovation, portability, sustainability, effectiveness and participation/collaboration among partners and stakeholders.

“It’s clearly innovative in the sense that the University of Alberta and Keyano College are working together to provide much needed increased opportunities and access to education in our region,” Boger says. “It’s definitely effective if you look at the number of graduates who have completed the program and stayed in the community to work. You would be hard pressed to find a local school that has not benefited from our program.”

Meeting the community’s needs includes preparing teachers that are familiar with the context of education in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. This includes instilling graduates with an understanding and appreciation of multiculturalism and First Nations, Métis, and Inuit (FNMI) histories, cultures and traditions.

“Many students in our program have had the opportunity to experience a teaching practicum in a rural or regional placement, including schools in the communities of Anzac, Fort MacKay and Fort Chipewyan,” says Boger.

Diverse teachers for diverse classrooms

Carla Peck, a professor in UAlberta’s Department of Elementary Education, has been teaching students in the collaborative program at Keyano since its inception. She says the students are culturally diverse with a variety of life experiences, but they do have one thing in common.

“The commitment level of the students is something I really notice,” Peck says. “Every cohort has been unique, but the level of commitment to becoming the best teachers they can be has been consistent, and I think that’s an ethic that’s been built into the program by the people who direct it.”

Peck says the diversity of the cohorts that pass through the Collaborative Elementary Education Program is key to effectively serving the children of Wood Buffalo.

“We know through lots of research that diverse children see themselves reflected in the school system, and part of that reflection can happen through the teaching force,” she says. “I think it’s wonderful when I think about all the children who look up and see role models in their schools.”

Randy Wimmer, interim dean of UAlberta’s Faculty of Education, says the program is a model for how collaboration between post-secondary institutions in Alberta can serve the diverse needs of their communities.

"As a scholar in both higher education and teacher education, I consider the Collaborative Elementary Education Program at Keyano College to be a leading example of contemporary professional programming in North America,” says Wimmer. “Places like Alberta need to be reminded of our low participation rates in higher education, issues of access, and of the reality of a relatively sparse population spread out over a vast geographical area. Keyano College and its collaborative programming actively and effectively take on these challenges.”

"This program is a stellar example of the benefits of Campus Alberta system collaboration,” adds Wimmer. “Here we see post-secondary institutions working together rather than competing for learners, and local educational demands being met through existing institutions and their relationships with each other."

Feature image: In-class photo of students in the Collaborative Elementary Education Program at Keyano College.