For 25 years, the Wahkotowin Society has been recognizing the achievements of promising Aboriginal students in Edmonton.
“We wanted to celebrate those kids who are trying their best but may not have top marks in their subjects,” said society member-at-large Susie Robinson.
The Wahkotowin Society, a group of caring individuals, was spearheaded by Eva Bereti and others who wanted to give deserving students a pat on the back for trying to improve their lives. Bereti has been actively working with youth throughout her career as a long-time employee of the Edmonton Catholic School District.
“And most of all, we try to get them looking towards future post-secondary education,” said Robinson, who noted that the recognition luncheons were originally held at the Faculty Club at the University of Alberta so the students could be exposed to the campus and to the greater world offered there.
“At the beginning you would see students coming out with one of their teachers who gave a five-minute expose of why that student was chosen. The students would be looking down at the ground, some pulling hoodies up self-consciously. But now, when you see them coming up smiling and confident and loving to be recognized for the work that they have done, you don’t see a lack of confidence,” said Robinson.
Students from grades seven to 12 are selected by their teachers as candidates worthy of recognition of achievement in one of three categories: attendance, most improved, and a good attitude. As students and staff are aware of the awards, the students are also aware of the expectations that must be fulfilled if they wish to be selected.
It is personal growth that is acknowledged, as many of these students have had to overcome hardships and difficulties to strive to succeed, said Robinson.
“These are the students who have acknowledged that they need their education and they turn their lives around and work towards graduation and a career,” she said. During the two-hour luncheon the students hear accolades from their teachers and encouragement and praise from everyone present. They also receive a certificate and letters from the Prime Minister, the Lieutenant Governor, and various Aboriginal organizations.
This year the Wahkotowin Society will honour the current crop of successful youth on National Aboriginal Day, June 21.
The board of directors of the Wahkotowin Society host the students’ luncheon but also organizes a retreat for women who have had cancer, so works in the community on other worthwhile activities as well.
“The board meets monthly, but as the time for the event gets closer, meetings increase in frequency to every week,” said Robinson. “It’s a working board, and we’re all volunteers from the Aboriginal community, doing our bit to finalize each event and doing all we can to encourage our youth for a lifetime of success.”