LGM families offered community support

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A family attending the Low German information evening at John Davidson School in Coaldale visits a law enforcement booth.  

COALDALE – The subject matter was a departure from the usual lessons taught at John Davidson School, but Principal Janice Loitz knew the information evening would prove invaluable all the same.

The Palliser school, which offers an alternative program for families of Low German-speaking Mennonite students, provided parents the opportunity to learn about various community services available to them as well as information on healthy lifestyles, police relations, hunting and fishing regulations and safe firearm handling.

Creating greater awareness of such issues was key, but Loitz said the Low German information evening was also about building trust and relationships.  It is imperative, she added, for home and school to work together as a community.

“When the family supports the school and the education of their children, it has a direct impact on the attitude of the child towards his or her education,” she said. “A positive relationship regardless of background or language is essential and we definitely work to keep this relationship open and positive.”

Community Health Representative Tina Fielding, one of the organizers of the event, said some of the information is available to the LGM community elsewhere. It was hoped there might be greater buy-in, however, by offering messages from multiple support agencies, in the evening, and after the farming season was done so the whole family could be present.

Since language is often a barrier for the LGS community to access such information, all sessions were offered in, or translated into, Low German.

Fielding was hired by Alberta Health Services to work solely with LGM clients in southern Alberta. She has roots in that community, and said her family would have welcomed such support .

“In building relationships and building trust, it opens the doors for them to become more involved in the community and takes away the fear that we are trying to assimilate them into the Canadian culture and we want them to lose their heritage,” said Fielding.

She recalled teachers during her formative years who went that extra mile, and can’t emphasize enough the impact educators can have on LGM families.

“The kids bring home this sense of trust and community from the school and in turn the families feel more comfortable to come to the school and ask the questions they need to,” said Fielding.

Among others involved in organizing the information evening were Palliser Regional Schools, Alberta Hunter Education and 40-Mile Community Adult Learning. Fielding praised the work of Dan Doerksen, Palliser’s Low-German speaking Mennonite liaison worker.

“They’ve always had good things to say about Dan and how he has supported them and how he likes to build relationships with them and how he likes to jest and have fun,” she said. “And that’s a huge thing in this community because they love to laugh and make jokes. ”

Palliser Regional Schools offers alternative programs for families of a Low German-speaking Mennonite background at John Davidson School, Barons School, Huntsville School and Carmangay Outreach.

At all the LGM alternative programs, students learn English and study a regular Alberta program of studies in English. In addition, students learn High German.

The learning environment is sensitive to the Low German Mennonite culture. They also have staff who speakLow German to assist with communication with parents and may offer them English classes.

For a German language brochure on Palliser Regional Schools’ alternative programs for families of Low German-speaking Mennonites, click HERE.