September 24, 2010

Region partners with William Whyte School to boost student wellness

The Winnipeg Health Region has entered into a new partnership with William Whyte Community School to help create a healthier environment for students attending the inner city school.

The partnership was officially launched today at a special ceremony in the Region's Main Street offices, complete with performances by drummers and fiddlers from the school.

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Among other things, the agreement calls on the Region to direct some of its funding to the Winnipeg Poverty Reduction Council to support special school activities, healthy snacks and food at the school. Perhaps more importantly, the agreement also calls on the Region's staff to volunteer at William Whyte.

"This is an opportunity to make a difference for these students and their families," said Arlene Wilgosh, President & CEO of the Winnipeg Health Region, in reference to the agreement.

William Whyte Principal Debbie Beach-Ducharme said the partnership serves an important need. "We have a very strong need for volunteers," said Beach-Ducharme. "Before, during, and after school, everything is run by volunteers. We do have a core of parent volunteers, but as many of them are single moms with young children, they experience difficulty coming to the school, especially in the winter."

Today's ceremony featured special performances by drummers and fiddlers from the school. First up were three Grade 3 students. Holding their drums high, the students - Heaven Leigh McCallum, Natalie Duguid and lead singer Lala Bonbard - beat on hide drums and sang "For Our People", with words in both English and Ojibway. They smiled shyly when their beat got out of sync every now and then, but quickly got back in tune with each other.

The girls' charming performance was complemented by two fiddlers - Grade 5 student Dylan Young and Grade 6 student Abby Letandre - who played a few jigs and set toes tapping around the room as region staff and some of the school's teachers looked on.

Drummer Natalie Duguid told the audience that the traditional hide drum must be held properly. "You don't hold the drum face down, because it smothers Mother Earth," the eight-year-old said.
"You hold it up, as a sign of respect. That's important."

William Whyte is a Nursery to Grade 8 school located at the corner of Manitoba and Powers streets in the Point Douglas neighbourhood. There are 290 students in the school with 90 per cent of those being of aboriginal descent, and the other 10 per cent made up of recent immigrants to Canada, from countries such as Philippines and Pakistan.

"Our school has a strong emphasis in aboriginal subjects because of the clientele," said Beach-Ducharme, adding the school also focuses on physical education, computer technology and cultural arts to enrich the classroom programs.

The school's aim is to involve as many adult volunteers in their programming as possible, providing both role models for the children, and also providing a sense of security in what can be a rough neighbourhood.

"People have a negative perception of our community," said Beach-Ducharme. "Yes, our families are struggling. We can help them, by giving the children a chance to partake in activities such as our boys' drum group, our girls' drum group, the powwow club, and other activities which keep them off the street. We assist their parents, by working on nutrition and budgeting and how to get their kids involved in sports. Having volunteers from the WRHA join in will make a big difference."

Read more about William Whyte Community School

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