It’s been almost a year since JEDI first met some industrious First Nation students at George Street Middle School (GSMS) in Fredericton, NB. At that time, the students had started to write and illustrate a children’s book for the entrepreneurship program that GSMS participates in every year through The Learning Partnership.
Last week, the students celebrated the delivery of the first hard copies of their newly published book. The authors and illustrators of the book are Baillie Sacobie, Theo Polchies, Amber Solomon, and Brooke Sacobie, all from Kingsclear First Nation.
Their book, titled “Weyossisok” which means ‘little animals’ in the Woolastooqiyik language, is an early childhood picture book written in both Maliseet and English. The book features a few different animals that are important to the Maliseet culture and includes short sentences on each animal.
“When we were in elementary school we didn’t have any good books that were First Nation books,” said Theo, “so we decided that we wanted kids to learn Maliseet and we decided to do a children’s book to help them learn.”
“This book is important because we don’t want our language to be lost or to fade,” said Baillie, “so we figured that if we just taught that basics that people would learn it and then they could pass it down.”
Walter Paul, the student’s former Maliseet teacher at GSMS, was the main translator for the book, taking what the children had written in English and then translating it into Maliseet. Theo’s grandmother, Barb Atwin, also helped with the translation. Natalie Sappier, a local Aboriginal artist, helped the children with the book as well and gave them tips and suggestions for their illustrations.
Megan Young-Jones, the first Nations literacy teacher at GSMS, has also been working with the students on this project.
“I’m very excited for the students because they have been putting in so much work for 2 years,” said Ms. Young-Jones. “I’m not their homeroom teacher so we would only have about 2 hours, on a good week, that we would work together. I’m very fortunate that our administration recognized how important this project was and all of the learning that was taking place. I just helped to guide them through the process of working together as a team. It’s supposed to be student-led so while I might offer a suggestion once in a while it’s up to them to debate whether they want to take my suggestion or if they want to go their own way. This can be hard as a teacher because sometimes you can see where they might be going astray and you really want to pull them back, but it’s really about them learning the process. Now that they have their product, they are able to go out and be celebrated for all of the work that they’ve done. That’s going to be fantastic for them.”
JEDI has also played a part in helping to get this book completed. JEDI has a small fund which can be used to help small community/ group ventures. This fund was created using proceeds from the JEDI golf tournament in October 2014.
“We didn’t really know how we were going to get the money for the book,” said Baillie. “We were going to ask the school and then we came across JEDI and they helped us out with a grant which provided the seed money.”
Bryan Harn, the Economic Development Officer at JEDI, has been mentoring the students throughout their project. He helped them to work on resumes, create a business plan for their book, and to fill out the application for the grant money. He also invited them to JEDI’s last plenary in Moncton.
“Working with Bryan has been wonderful,” said Ms. Young-Jones. “JEDI has been an amazing business partner for us to have. Bryan has been excellent working with the children. Going to the plenary event in Moncton was huge for them, I think they realized the potential they can have and it opened a lot of doors for where they can go in their future.”
The students have big plans now that their book is ready.
“We ordered 30 books with our seed money,” said Amber, “so we could see who would be interested in buying our book.”
“It was kind of like a starter pack to see if we could sell them,” said Baillie. “We didn’t want to order a lot of books and then not have people buying them.”
The interest is already there for the books though. Tracey O’Reilly, the Kingsclear First Nation Education Director purchased some books on the first day they were available and several of the Kingsclear council members have expressed interest in buying books as well.
“We’re targeting the whole District 18, Anglophone West District,” said Brooke. “We’re also focusing on selling them in Kingslcear, St Mary’s and Tobique.”
“We’re using the profit from the sale of our books to buy books for the school on the reserve in Kingsclear,” said Baillie. “We noticed that when we all went through there that they didn’t have many books so we want to help them get more books.”
The experience has been great for the students. They learned a lot about building a business, creating a book, and have learned personal skills as well.
“It was a really cool project and we learned a lot of skills,” said Brooke, “like how to do business plans and resumes, so it helped us out a lot.”
“I learned that you have to be persistent with stuff,” said Baillie. “If someone doesn’t answer your email you have to send it again and again. That was a good skill to learn. I also learned a lot of Maliseet because we said it over and over again for the recordings.”
“I’ve noticed a huge gain in their confidence and self-esteem, that’s the main thing,” said Ms. Young-Jones. “I’m very excited and proud of these students.”
JEDI is also proud of these young entrepreneurs and we look forward to following their success and the success of their book.
People interested in purchasing the book can contact Ms. Young-Jones at George Street Middle School or contact Bryan Harn at JEDI.