Priscilla Raw moved from Arviat, Nunavut, to Ottawa in 2016 before deciding she wanted a career change. Three years later, she enrolled in the Early Childhood Education program at Algonquin College as a mature student.
“In 2018, my daughter, who is now five, was a client in the early years program here in the Indigenous community,” Raw said. “I saw the need for Inuktitut/Inuktut-speaking early childhood educators; she was my inspiration to take the program at Algonquin.”
She said there is high demand for Indigenous early childhood educators, not just in Ottawa but across the country. But another reason is that the college offers a great support system.
“My daughter was very young at the time, and I wanted to spend more time with her,” Raw explained.
When the Covid pandemic hit, classes moved online. “It was a bit of a challenge in the beginning because it was my first time taking courses online,” she shared. “However, I did get the hang of things quite quickly as I received a lot of support from the faculty. Plus, my classmates were very supportive as well as my family and friends.”
That support was crucial as she found the two-year program difficult: “Being a mother to a toddler and a full-time student, I had to manage my time. The facilitators are great, and very helpful. They’re there for you. Any questions or concerns you may have, you’re able to reach out and they’ll get back to you in a timely manner,” she said.
Now that she’s graduated, Raw is humbled to inspire other Indigenous people who may want to enrol in online classes. She stated that her nieces and nephews saw her taking courses and said, “‘If auntie can do it, it doesn’t matter how old you are’.”
She now has a sister in college, as well as a niece taking teacher education to whom she gives a lot of advice.
Raw advises potential Indigenous students to be prepared. While courses may be intense, there is a lot of help available, both from teachers and classmates. “Algonquin has a great support system such as the Mamidosewin Centre. We had weekly sessions virtually, things like tea talks,” she said.
Algonquin’s Mamidosewin Centre provides academic, career and personal support to all Indigenous students, as well as a student lounge with televisions, video-game systems, an outdoor space, an emergency food bank, and a smudging location.
The centre also provides information about bursaries and awards, to which Raw encourages students to check out. “Be prepared to do some research on paying for tuition fees and other expenses,” she emphasized.