St. Michael Community School honoured for its groundbreaking program

Sask Bulletin
January 20, 2021

Cristin Dorgan Lee

If ever there was a community school that by its very name accurately portrays that designation it would sure be St. Michael Community School and the Métis School of Excellence, which is housed in this PreK-8 Saskatoon school.

The success of the project was further validated by the fact that Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools and the Central Urban Métis Federation, in collaboration with Métis Nation-Saskatchewan recently received the Premier’s Board of Education Award for Innovation and Excellence in Education.

Sitting in her office–by all accounts a rarity–school principal Cristin Dorgan Lee noted that the students at the school were well aware of the accolade and more so the community at large as well.

“I think there is a deeper awareness in the greater community here and that’s due in large part to the Métis School of Excellence program that has come to include partnerships and the participation of Métis community Elders.

“This award is a recognition of the work we are doing and the collaborations we have established. This is living out reconciliation. That really adds to the sense of pride community members have in this school. Sometimes maybe it becomes just every day,
but our normal is an incredible gift for these children and their families,” Dorgan Lee said.

Dorgan Lee came to the school in 2016 and has seen first-hand how the emphasis on the Métis ways of knowing has imbued such confidence in the students and parents alike.

Dorgan Lee was full of praise for the school division, which had envisioned establishing this program more than a decade ago.

“The program has given us a real sense of authenticity in terms of who we are as Métis people and how we have survived. We could never have done this alone and this is not education in isolation. This is who we are called to be,” the principal added.

Dorgan Lee explained how the program has flourished, including such integral features like the lauded fiddling program at the school.

“This is not just educating our Métis kids, but everyone in the entire division has become richer in learning about Métis perspective and so it’s a way we get to give back by sharing stories. As I said, it’s reconciliation in action. This program acts as the hub of our Métis pride.”

Dorgan Lee, herself an accomplished fiddler, cited the fiddling program as one of the examples of the pride of the students, noting that “it’s not something they have to do, but it’s something they want to do and so that’s very special in terms of the energy it brings.”

Students come from all over the city to attend this Métis program, for which Dorgan Lee bestows much of the success to the work done by Superintendent of Education Gordon Martell.

Dorgan Lee mentioned with considerable pride that even during the COVID-19 pandemic there was nearly 100 percent attendance on this particular day among the 150 students.

Diane Boyko, Board of Education Chair at Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, referred to St. Michael as a vibrant place and a hub of activity, for not only learning, but also for a wide variety of cultural and community activities.

“There’s a sense of excitement around things like learning Michif, fiddling and jigging that has translated into interest and enthusiasm in other areas of learning. We really think this model of community education has been, and will continue to be, successful for students, staff [150] and families,” Boyko said, adding that her heart sings when she comes to the school.

“This is a place where people feel welcome, and we’re doing all we can to get this next generation to achieve and experience success,” Dorgan Lee offered. “Everyone’s journey is unique, but a big part of it is having that pride and sense of belonging.

“I look forward to coming to work every single day and to be in the presence of the children and staff. We all have a common goal. Just hearing the Michif language when you come in and you hear the laughter and see how engaged everyone is, there’s nothing like it,” Dorgan Lee said, adding that she is learning the language right along with the students.