Innovative program Confident Learners launches at Lakeview School in M’Chigeeng

Students, parents and teachers look on as students from Lakeview School cut the ribbon to celebrate the launch of Confident Learners program. photo by Robin Burridge

M’CHIGEENG—Lakeview School in M’Chigeeng was the first of 32 schools across Canada to launch a new literacy program, ‘Confident Learners,’ last Thursday.

“Confident Learners is a scalable school-based program designed to increase the literacy skills of children in First Nation communities,” explains a press release. “It entails a ‘pathway approach’ to instruction and assessment that is based on the science of literacy and linked to teaching activities that support First Nations language and culture. Confident Learners also includes a professional development program for teachers aimed at increasing their professional knowledge of the science of literacy skill development and its application in First Nations settings; a family and community literacy program that strives to strengthen families’ contributions to their children’s skill development and a training program for aides and volunteers who are supporting children’s literacy development.”

“In life, one of the things that can give individuals confidence is the ability to read and write,” said Lakeview School Principal Neil Debassige at the launch event. “Thirty-five years ago, our leadership here in M’Chigeeng made a point to take control of education for our community and make it a priority. They found the best teachers, like your teachers today, and created a safe school and engaging learning environment. We set goals for language and culture and incorporated both English and Anishinabek language into our everyday learning. The Confident Learners’ Program helps us meet these goals and is designed for your success.”

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Canada Research Chair in Literacy and Human Development at the University of New Brunswick, also a developer of the program, was on hand at Lakeview School for the launch.

“I am so proud of you all,” said Dr. Willms to Lakeview staff and students. “You are one of 32 schools across Canada to be implementing the Confident Learners’ Program and the first to launch the program. I had thought of this idea 10 years ago. The program is special because it connects the school, teachers, parents and you together to build your literacy.”

“When I got the idea, I hired three literacy experts and we built a 20 step program,” continued Dr. Willms, asking the students to stand up and take 20 steps counting out loud, first in Ojibwe and then in English. “Reading is so important in everything you do. When you can read you can be part of the story and adventure. Reading also allows you to embrace your culture through art, stories and songs.”

“Confident Learners focuses on the development of literacy skills during the primary school years, because learning to read fluently and with confidence opens up many learning opportunities for learning through their school career and thereafter,” added Dr. Willms. “To become a condident learner, First Nations children need many and varied learning opportunities for increasing their literacy skills that are grounded in their culture. Culture is important because it is related to the processes of learning, or what is sometimes called ‘ways of knowing’.”

Educator Derek Debassige addresses the audience at the launch of the Confident Learners program at Lakeview School. photo by Robin Burridge
Educator Derek Debassige addresses the audience at the launch of the Confident Learners program at Lakeview School.
photo by Robin Burridge

Dr. Willms concluded that the students and staff at Lakeview School have been key partners in the development of Confident Learners and that they have been working with the researchers in developing the program and at the same time working with the elders and parents of the Lakeview community to ensure their children are exposed to many and varied learning opportunities.

“We are confident in this initiative’s professional development framework, in its research, and in its potential to have all of our students entering into the junior division with the literacy skills that will allow them to be confident in themselves and successful in their education endeavors,” said Mr. Debassige.

He explained to The Expositor that Lakeview started the program two years ago through Kenjgewin Teg Education Institute’s (KTEI) First Nation Student Success Program (FNSSP). “The program is designed for students from Kindergarten to Grade 3, with outlined steps along the way for teachers, parents and students to clearly see what level the students are at and what skills they need to move forward in the next phase of their literacy pathway,” Mr. Debassige concluded.

Wave one of the program launch, which started at Lakeview School last week, will also be launching at four other schools across Canada this year.

For more information about the program, visit