Reflection: Kugaaruk second-graders learn sign language for classmate

The stories we loved to tell: Nunatsiaq News reporter Mélanie Ritchot looks back on one of her favourite assignments of 2021

Grade 2 student Winnie Inutuinaq is pictured here practising American Sign Language one-on-one with student support assistant Suzanne Krejunark. (Photo provided by the Department of Education)

By Mélanie Ritchot

This article is one in a series in which Nunatsiaq News journalists reflect on a story from 2021 that they loved to tell.

In a year in which it sometimes felt Nunavut was lurching from one crisis to another, it seemed especially important to find time to tell some local feel-good stories.

My favourite one involved Winnie, a Grade 2 student in Kugaaruk whose classmates were learning American Sign Language to communicate with her.

I first got a news tip about the class learning to sign from a staff member at ASL Breaking Barriers, an Ontario-based organization, in January.

About two months passed between that first email exchange to the story being published. I had to wait for Nunavut’s Education Department to approve my requests to speak with school staff — the principal and Winnie’s mother, who also works at the school — and then schedule a time to get on the phone with them.

But hearing the happiness in the voice of Winnie’s mother, Nancy-Jean Inutuinak, when she said her daughter doesn’t feel lonely anymore, made the story worth waiting for.

She told me about her daughter being able to make friends at school for the first time in years and watching the kids sign together when they’d run into each other around town.

Even though she was just learning ASL herself and couldn’t always understand the kids’ chatter, Inutuinak could see the difference the twice-weekly lessons had made in Winnie’s life in a matter of months.

The school principal, Jason Hatt, was also proud to talk about how enthusiastically the students took to the idea of learning ASL to communicate with one person.

The week after we spoke last January, the school’s Grade 3 class was scheduled to start learning ASL to support another student who is hard of hearing as well, following Winnie’s class’s lead.

While writing this article, I thought about how quick kids are to take on big projects and challenges — like learning a completely new language and skill — without hesitating. The same project would likely seem daunting to most adults.

I also admire the way Winnie, and other kids with different abilities, are getting through school and adapting in their own ways, in systems built for able-bodied people and with limited resources.

Among the dozens of students and staff learning ASL in Kugaaruk, I’m sure some will make someone else feel included through ASL in the coming years, whether it’s in another community or outside of the territory.

Soon after publishing this story, I got a text from a friend who works as an audiologist at the Qikiqtani General Hospital, saying that staff loved the article.

As a reporter, it was interesting to see a bit of who was reading and circulating it, since I’m usually privy to the number of readers clicking on a story, but not who they are, where they’re from, or why something piqued their interest.

Most of all, this story reminded me of the need for consistent reporting in each Nunavut community. I know many happy stories like Winnie’s and more hard-hitting news is falling through the cracks with most journalists in the territory being based in Iqaluit.

In the new year, I hope to cover more community news and have made it a personal goal to find more stories like Winnie’s outside of Iqaluit.

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(1) Comment:

  1. Posted by S on

    Very moving episode.

    Curious there isn’t a teacher involved with this event in a grade 2 classroom

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