Nelnah Bessie John School is seen in Beaver Creek on July 1, 2022. The school opened its doors for the start of the school year on Aug. 7. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

Nelnah Bessie John School is seen in Beaver Creek on July 1, 2022. The school opened its doors for the start of the school year on Aug. 7. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

School’s in for summer at Beaver Creek school, Nelnah Bessie John

The school has adopted a year-round calendar to respect hunting and harvesting seasons

End-of-school celebrations may be more common than back-to-school celebrations, but students and their families kicked off the new year at Nelnah Bessie John School with a party.

On Aug. 7, the Beaver Creek school was the first of 11 schools under the First Nation School Board (FNSB) to open its doors for the year. Melissa Flynn is the executive director of the FNSB. She said the community asked for the early start date.

“(The school year calendar) was developed between the White River First Nation and the FNSB so families can come together and be on the land,” Flynn said over the phone on Aug. 16.

She said the calendar change was made to respect hunting and harvesting seasons. Under the new calendar, students will attend six weeks of school, followed by one- or two-week breaks, year-round.

At the moment, Flynn said, none of the other schools with the board have adopted the same calendar. However, she says the FNSB is working with additional communities to develop calendars that could look similar.

That’s just one of the changes this year under the FNSB, which was established in early 2022. That year, eight schools voted to join the board, including Chief Zzeh Gittlit School in Old Crow, Grey Mountain Primary School in Whitehorse, Johnson Elementary and Watson Lake Secondary in Watson Lake, Nelnah Bessie John School in Beaver Creek, Ross River School in Ross River, St. Elias Community School in Haines Junction and Takhini Elementary in Whitehorse.

In 2023, three additional schools joined, including Eliza Van Bibber School in Pelly Crossing, Ghùch Tlâ Community School in Carcross and Kluane Lake School in Destruction Bay.

Flynn said two other significant changes are around numeracy and literacy programming.

In the coming weeks, she said teachers from kindergarten to Grade 7 will participate in professional development workshops with educators from Alberta and the newly-formed literacy coach team at the FNSB. That instruction will focus on a “structured” approach to literacy. It aims to emphasize a phonetic awareness that will help kids learn to decode words.

There will also be language and cultural programming. Flynn pointed to current job postings on the FNSB website looking for a language program coach and for land and language connectors in eight communities.

“These positions are going to be working directly in the schools,” said Flynn. “We are looking for local First Nations knowledge-keepers, elders … and this will bring local capacity to the communities in their local schools.”

The goal is to incorporate traditional language and culture into education. Because these positions were created at the request of communities, Flynn said the specifics of each job would likewise depend on the needs identified by each community. Community committees, made up of local residents, will be part of the process of identifying these needs.

Some might include demand for experiential educators, Flynn said. If a community wants to get kids out on the land more regularly, the FNSB aims to support that by allowing the school to hire someone with expertise in the identified area.

Flexibility like this is aimed at allowing communities to receive more localized education.

Contact Amy Kenny at