Written by: Matt Johnson for Sask Sport
Grade 9 students are adding boxing to the land-based curriculum at Saskatoon’s St. Frances Cree Bilingual School.
The students have taken to boxing thanks to the help of the Dream Broker program, which operates in 10 different schools across Saskatchewan helping to connect youth with sport, culture and recreation programs. St. Frances Cree Bilingual School is one of those schools, with the Grade 9 class also being a part of the land-based education program, which allows the students to take part in activities not possible in traditional learning.
“It’s not the Grade 9 that most students have experienced,” explains Curtis Vinish, a teacher within the program. “It’s a lot more oriented around relationships, land-based learning culture and it’s kind of like a family working together with everyone and getting to know and support our students.”
When students expressed interest in boxing, Vinish reached out to Laura Dyck, who serves as the Dream Broker for St. Frances and St. Michael Schools in Saskatoon, for assistance. Dyck contacted Hub City Boxing to connect the students with a boxing program. Now, the entire Grade 9 class at St. Frances is involved in the boxing class
Vinish has enjoyed watching his students take to boxing through the lessons, which originally started remotely before transitioning to in-person as the year moved along. The most important part – the lessons are conducted in Cree, just like the rest of the classes in the school.
“I’m always looking to try to do different things with the students and when an opportunity to do boxing came about we looked into it and said ‘why don’t we do this for everyone?’ And it’s kind of took off from there and I wasn’t sure if all of our students would enjoy it or love it or how they’d feel about it. But, all of our students have really been engaged with it,” said Vinish.
Part of the success has been due to the involvement of Vernon Linklater and Abigail Pritchard. Linklater, who was a bronze medallist in boxing at the 1990 Commonwealth Games, and Pritchard, who is a coach at Hub City Boxing in Saskatoon, have helped introduce the Grade 9 students to the sport.
For Pritchard, to introduce a new wave of youth to the sport she loves, alongside her own coach in Linklater has been an awesome experience. The collaboration between Pritchard and Linklater works because Pritchard credits Linklater with teaching her almost everything she knows about boxing.
Dyck, who pointed out that Pritchard is specifically a great role model for the females in the program, also believes that having coaches of Indigenous backgrounds is a tremendous draw for the program.
“When the students can use the same language and see Indigenous instructors who have done so well in the sport, it is a great boost of confidence,” said Dyck.
Vinish has enjoyed watching his students take to the sport over the last number of months.
“It’s been really cool having them, learning from them and seeing the kids connect with them and push themselves with kind of the workouts and the knowledge that they’re being taught,” said Vinish.
Land-based education programs, which are becoming more popular in the province, can be seen as a way to create connections through language, the land, Elders and community members.