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Students learn about the plant camas from Ashley Cooper, program director of the PEPÁḴEṈ HÁUTW̱ gardening program. (Melanie Neilson) Students at one Vancouver Island school are taking immersive language learning a step further — and getting their hands dirty practising SENĆOŦEN, one of the Coast Salish group of languages.

Grade 3 students from the ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱ Tribal school in Saanich are planting vegetables and learning about traditional foods in a workshop that is taught about 70 per cent in SENĆOŦEN. ‘I’ve always been told from my elders that SENĆOŦEN comes from the land so it just seems really appropriate to be teaching them the language [this way],’ said Cooper. (Melanie Neilson) "I find it to be really important for the children to have exposure to SENĆOŦEN outside of the classroom," said Ashley Cooper, program director of the PEPÁḴEṈ HÁUTW̱ Native Plants & Garden Program.

SENĆOŦEN is the language of the W̱SÁNEĆ First Nations on Vancouver Island’s Saanich Peninsula. The children take home some of the vegetables they grow to share with their families. (Melanie Neilson) In the workshop, the students are digging up and replanting camas bulbs, a plant that can be cooked and eaten.

"I wanted to get them to get their hands dirty and be working with traditional foods," Cooper said. The ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱ Tribal school in Saanich not only offers immersion classes in SENĆOŦEN, they have land-based language instruction in their own garden. (CBC/Jean Paetkau) Empowering curriculum

Cooper, who went to a public school, said she wishes she had had the same kind of exposure to Indigenous educational programing and tribal schools as a child.

"It’s really empowering for these children to have access to that type of ancestral knowledge," she said.

"They have a sense of pride from when they get to learn about these types of subjects, especially when it comes to land-based learning and language-based learning." Grade 3 student Danaya Sams agrees that learning to harvest plants and bringing them home to eat is especially exciting. (Melanie Neilson) Jorja Horne, one of the Grade 3 students, said she loves learning to grow plants.

"There were beans on that fence [last year], and they were so colourful, and we got to take some home," she said. The students learn the different uses of the plants as well as how to grow them. (CBC/Jean Paetkau) This year, the class has discovered a "raging passion for kale," according to Grade 3 class teacher Melanie Neilson.

"A lot of the kids have discovered new vegetables," Neilson said.

"They love any chance they get to get their hands dirty and especially going home with handfuls of vegetables and different herbs they can use." The students learn everything from how to nurture plants to which ones can be eaten or drunk as tea. (Melanie Neilson) An elder of the Tsawout First Nation, Earl Claxton Jr., also spends time in the gardens, growing vegetables and native plants.

"It really warms my heart how [the students] come in and are so eager to be here," he said.

"I think all students in the whole province should have something like this — just to learn to do things in the ground , be in contact and in touch with nature." Elder Earl Claxton Jr., far right, watches the children garden. He says he’s touched at how eager they are to learn. (Melanie Neilson) Beyond Beads and Bannock is an in-depth look at the Indigenous curriculum in B.C. schools. The series runs on CBC B.C. radio, TV and digital Sept. 3-8.

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