Aasta Idlout, left, and Isaiah Brown are two of five students who will graduate this year from Resolute Bay’s Qarmartalik School. The class is one of the largest group of graduates the school has had in years, teacher Rhonda McKenzie said. (Photo courtesy of Rhonda McKenzie)

‘There’s all this potential’: Resolute Bay school celebrates graduating class of 5

Community has its biggest graduating class in years

By Madalyn Howitt

A graduating class of five students may seem small to most people but in Resolute Bay, population 183, it’s a big number to celebrate.

“I think I’m more excited than they are,” laughed Odet Lywood, the principal of Qarmartalik School.

It’s been a long time since a graduating class was this big, she said. Most years it’s just been two or three students and sometimes, like last year, there are no graduates.

Qarmartalik Sschool takes in around 47 students from kindergarten to Grade 12.

Two of this year’s grads include Aasta Idlout and Isaiah Brown. Both students say they’re proud, but also surprised, that they’ll soon be getting their diplomas.

“Since the [end] of Grade 10, I missed a ton of school,” said Idlout, 17. “It wasn’t the best choice in my life, so I definitely didn’t think that I was going to be graduating. I thought I would have been short on credits.”

Aasta Idlout, 17, who played volleyball growing up in Resolute Bay, is thinking about becoming a biologist or a carpenter after she graduates high school later this month. (Photo courtesy of Rhonda McKenzie).

Likewise, Brown, 18, has rallied in his final year. He said he’s overcoming anger issues and a few suspensions over the years to complete the last classes he needs to graduate with his peers.

It wasn’t always an easy path to graduation, the pair said. There have been personal challenges. Resolute Bay is still reeling from the suicide of a young woman in late 2021, as well as the death of a young boy who was hit by an RCMP truck three years ago in Pond Inlet.

Disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic only added to the difficulties students were facing both inside and outside of the classroom.

“There were a lot of losses,” said their teacher, Rhonda McKenzie.

“We’ve had quite a few students kind of drop out, which is a little bit worrying to me. I feel like we’re failing them. If they’re dropping away, then you can’t say that’s a sign of success.”

When Idlout isn’t at school, she works at logistics company ATCO doing manual labour. She recently won an award recognizing her dedication to her job, and she uses the money she makes there to buy groceries for her family.

She said she loves science and math and is interested in becoming a biologist if she can get the credits needed to attend university. Or, she may pursue carpentry because she loves building things.

Idlout shared that she’s proud that she’s taken steps to look after her mental health, and encourages other students to do the same.

Isaiah Brown said he’s proud to have made it to the end of high school with all the credits he needs to graduate. (Photo courtesy of Rhonda McKenzie).

“You should really make sure that you’re OK to make sure that you can learn to your fullest potential,” she said.

Brown also works at ATCO, as a mechanic, and is thinking about going into a trade after graduation.

“Maybe automotive or heavy equipment,” he said, which may send him to a college in Alberta or Ontario.

No one’s decision on what to do after graduating is any greater than anyone else’s, McKenzie said.

“When I hear students say, ‘I want to work at the hamlet, I want to work at the store, I want to do garbage collection,’ as long as they want to be something, I’m thrilled,” she said. “There’s all this potential.”

A third graduating student works at a sustainable clean-up company and plans to continue working there, McKenzie said, while two other graduates are taking extra science and math classes with a local teacher and online to earn the credits they’ll need to make it into the University of Alberta.

Qarmartalik School only offers basic education, McKenzie said. That means students who want to get university-level credits to move on to higher education must take extra courses on top of the regular curriculum.

Teacher Rhonda McKenzie (centre) said she admires the fortitude of graduating students like Aasta Idlout, left, 17, and Isaiah Brown, 18. (Photo courtesy of Rhonda McKenzie)

“Just the fact that those two [students] have the focus and determination to do that is amazing,” she said. “You wouldn’t find me going back, but they are and they are loving it.”

The group of five will have a big graduation celebration Saturday. There will be a drum dance performance, throat singers, a community bonfire after the ceremony, and students will snap photos with government ministers and other dignitaries.

And that’s not all. McKenzie is making sure the five go home with custom-made parkas as graduation gifts.

“None of this would have been happening without Rhonda,” Idlout said. “She just cares so much, and she’s making sure that we feel special.”

“She went over the top,” Brown said.

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(2) Comments:

  1. Posted by Bronwyn on

    Alianait!! THis is just the best story. Bravo to these graduating students. You worked so hard. I really hope you feel super proud of yourselves. Education is so key. Kudos to the teachers who fostered this pride and success in their students. Fabulous.

  2. Posted by Congrats on

    “I think I’m more excited than they are” might sum it up when only 40% of the class shows up for the photo! 😀 But seriously, congrats. Must have been a lot of babies born that year to have such a big graduating class in a tiny community!

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