STONEY NAKODA— Ready to welcome students back to their classrooms, Nakoda Elementary School has two new administrators eager to return to in-person learning this fall.
Newly named principal Aimee Dixon has called Stoney Nakoda First Nation home her entire life. For the past two years, she has served as the vice-principal at the elementary school.
Dixon’s grandmother was a Blackfoot language teacher for years and helped set her on the road to teaching. She added she was inspired by her English teacher when she was at Notre Dame.
“I thought this is the career I want to take,” Dixon said.
Her pursuit of a career in teaching has been long and winding. She first attended a private hockey school in Saskatchewan before heading out to Montana where she earned her teaching degree.
When she first moved to Montana, she was seeking a degree in early childhood but a year into her learning pivoted to go into education.
“As I got older, I really liked helping youth— I’ve always had a huge passion,” Dixon said.
Dixon said she is very excited to see the students in-person when classes resume.
“We’ve been online for the majority of this past school year, the hardest part of being in education right now is we are all a part,” Dixon said. “It’s been very hard during the pandemic because we haven’t been able to see the students.”
She is eager to get back to having everyone in the same building and celebrating the school community. She has missed visiting the students in their classrooms and is looking forward to returning to student-teacher interactions.
Dixon said she is proud to hold the position of principal because Stoney Nakoda First Nation is her home.
Stoney Nakoda First Nation members take pride in their culture and language, and she finds it fulfilling being a part of that tradition. However, Dixon said at times she faced challenges because she did not grow up speaking the language.
“I always took so much pride in being from there and being in this position gives me pride in being able to show and to teach and pave that path for the rest of the community,” Dixon said.
Her ultimate goal is to have all youth feel empowered while at school and help them as the future leaders of the community prepare for important roles such as serving as teachers or principals.
Dixon is the first woman from Stoney Nakoda First Nation to hold the position of principal. She sees it as an opportunity to open the door so that others can engage and take on leadership roles in the community.
It can be challenging as a rural community, because they need young people who want to call Stoney Nakoda First Nation home for years to come. Dixon said she wants to create a base where they can resist the pull of urban centres.
Dixon knows the power of returning home to help shape the community.
During her time in Montana Dixon had begun to establish and build a life for herself— However, she was tragically called back to Stoney Nakoda when her father died. She had two classes left of her degree at the time.
She remains grateful to advisors who helped her complete the degree and let her pursue teaching in Alberta. At the time the college she was going to had never facilitated a student placement in another country. Her advisors were able to set Dixon up in a pilot project to see if it was viable going to a Canadian school as a practicum. She was one of the first from her college to access that opportunity.
“It was heartache and loss that brought me back home, but, I mean I wouldn’t change being back home and giving back to the community,” Dixon said.
Nathan Court has taken on the mantel of Nakoda Elementary School vice-principal.
Court has been in the community for seven years starting off as a physical education specialist. He taught for four years before becoming a Grade 3 teacher for three years at the elementary school.
“I love it out there,” Court said.
Court was born and raised in Cochrane and now lives in Airdrie. Growing up he always drove by Morley but never knew much about the Nation.
He has appreciated being able to spend time at Nakoda Elementary School getting to know the students and the rich culture of the Nation.
Prior to setting up shop in Stoney Nakoda he attended the University of Lethbridge and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and Education. He taught physical education in Calgary for four years before coming to Nakoda Elementary School.
Court enjoys teaching at Stoney Nakoda because of the unique experience it offers being part of a rural and Indigenous community.
The number one goal this year is helping the youth transition back into in-person learning after being online since November 2020. He is looking forward to seeing reconnections happen and the community growing stronger.
“It just wasn’t a fun year,” Court said. “We just want the kids back in school in the fall if everything aligns.”
Court is ready to meet students where they are at, he said, adding teachers are getting ready to give youth a normal school year while helping them get back to in-person academics. It is challenging preparing for the new school year because he is unsure what to expect after a year-and-a-half of living with the pandemic.
Court added staff are dedicated to establishing stability and routine for the students to ensure they are comfortable and able to thrive.
“Once you start working there, you learn so much about the culture and the people. The kids are so sweet. It’s a great place to be,” Court said.