Mistissini’s Voyageur Memorial School closed down for three days on January 29. The safety of Voyageurs student population was cited as one the reasons by the school administration.
Some students had been starting small fires in the school and playing with the fire alarm system.
Voyageur Memorial didn’t bother to fix up the fire damage and invited parents to come and see for themselves what had been happening. Parents were shocked.
A meeting was quickly called with 400 people showing up: teachers, parents, Health Board, Social Services, Public Safety, Band Council and police were among the attendees.
“It’s about this time of the year that the kids start to act up. This time around we were a little more concerned with the directions it was taking,” said Mistissini Chief William Mianscum.
Mianscum talked about a school handbook that had been developed setting out school rules and regulations. The Band Council will be making it an official document with a by-law resolution. “What we are doing is sending a message that the ultimate authority in the local government system supports and endorses the handbook.”
“I think the message was clear in the public meeting (Feb. 3) that we all have to work together,” said Mianscum.
He said the meeting was not held to point blame at anyone.
The problems are apparently more present at the secondary level. “It is interesting to note parents’ night at the elementary level, you can’t find a parking space. But for secondary level hardly anyone shows up. This is certainly something that needs to be looked into,” said Chief Mianscum.
He felt the recent rash of fires was a call for help.
Henry Mianscum, the Community Education Administrator and former chief, found the meeting to be positive.
“Those problems had been in existence for some time. The solutions have always been there. It wasjust a matter of everyone converging and really begin to
speak out and to talk positively about it,” said Mianscum.
He said today’s students who deface property or act mischievously are no different from what he did as a youth.
Mianscum said a lot of people had memories of the incident in Chapais when at the town Christmas party someone was fooling around with a lighter. The resulting fire claimed the lives of 49 people. With 400 students in Mistissini’s school no one wanted to take chances with fire.
Mianscum said the meeting was a return to a traditional practice where people would gather together to work on a problem and attach no blame to anyone. “The school administration has changed its approach to many of the issues it brings to the people,” he said.
“We’ve gotten away from the negative approaches that focus on what a child has done wrong, how badly they behave. It is a turnoff for a lot of people to hear that.”
As a result of what they’ve done so far, he said more parents are attending meetings and volunteering to help.
While Mianscum does not want to blame anyone, he said a small group of students took otherwise good students and through peer pressure made them part of the problem. The solution to solving the problem begins at home, parents are saying. “Even in my home, I can say, maybe I fell short teaching my children how to respect my neighbour, friends or anyone else working for you.
So we are ail in the same boat”
Another positive step is to find activities that reward and reinforce positive attitudes in students. Another suggestion was to take court action if students don’t stop playing with fire or vandalizing the school.
After the meeting groups of students were brought in by grades and meeting were held to explain thepolicies and rules of the school so there would be no confusion. “I believe the parents understoodthat we were not out to blame some kids but rather we were trying to find a way to help and reachthese children,” Mianscum said, “There are many people crying out for help and I think we have tolisten to them and find out how we can help them. There were no angry people at the meeting.We were all concerned.”