Lelaina Jules has always loved learning. It just took a while for her to warm up to education in a classroom setting.
“As I was growing up, I didn’t have a good relationship with school. I did it to pass time,” she said recently.
It’s obvious that relationship has changed. Jules was describing her educational journey during her valedictory address for the Aboriginal Graduation Recognition celebration at Vancouver Island University.
Jules received a BA in First Nations Studies from VIU in 2007 and this year earned a Bachelor of Education.
“Now I’m a high school teacher in Ahousaht with more than 170 students,” she proudly told graduating students and their families and friends.
VIU Chancellor Shawn A-in-chut Atleo is thrilled that Jules has “gone home” with her teaching skills.
“I’m ecstatic not only for Lelaina, but for our region,” said Atleo.
The career path of the young mother-of-three is particularly significant for Atleo, who has personal experience with schooling in Ahousaht.
“When I was five or six, we were living in Bella Bella in the Central West Coast,” said Atleo. “There was a superintendent at that time who was advising a teacher who was considering going to Ahousaht. He said, “Don’t bother going to Ahousaht’ – in essence he was saying it’s a dying community. Nobody will be there in 20 years.”
Atleo, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, recalls his father’s response. “He took us right away to Ahousaht and took up the principal’s role and graduated the first group of Grade 7s. I was at the grand opening of the recently completed high school and now we’ve got two beautiful schools.”
“It’s an overwhelming feeling of joy, of hope for our people, that Lelaina is teaching our kids,” said Atleo.
Jules is grateful for the strong support she has received from her husband Alex and other family members as well as VIU Elders, faculty and Services for Aboriginal Students staff.
Jules, a member of Hesquiaht First Nation, grew up in a reserve in Hot Springs Cove. “I always loved to learn but learning for me usually happened outside the classroom with my parents and my grandparents.”
She attended high school in Ahousaht but felt disconnected.
“I thought when I tried to explain something, I wasn’t equipped with the language to express myself.”
Her confidence began to grow 10 years ago when she took an English course through the Adult Basic Education program at VIU. She built relationships with classmates and had a very supportive adviser who listened and helped with challenges such as daycare.
Jules took additional ABE courses but admits she still wasn’t sure about her educational career until she got into upper level courses.
“It was enjoyable to have conversations with classmates and teachers about what I was thinking and what they were thinking.”
She said she really fell in love with school during her post-baccalaureate studies in education and set her sights on teaching in high school.
“It’s come full circle,” said Jules. “I feel like I’m teaching students who are in the same situation I was in.”
In her valedictory address, Jules said her educational path has been worthwhile but it certainly hasn’t been easy.
“The quote that kept me going came from my father when I was younger. He told me: ‘Be happy with the mind I was born with, remember who I am and where I come from. As long as I have that, I can feel comfortable anywhere in the world.’”