Brighter beginnings and head starts for northern Alberta preschoolers

Innovative academy opens its doors on Fort McMurray No. 468 First Nation

The aurora borealis is particularly intense during a cold northern winter.

But the brightest lights in Jennifer VanDerVoort’s world shine at a much closer range.

VanDerVoort is director of the Brighter Beginnings Academy, an Aboriginal Head Start on Reserve (AHSOR) preschool that recently opened its doors on the Fort McMurray No. 468 First Nation in northern Alberta.

“Every day they amaze us. After only a couple of months at preschool, these children are using their words, sharing, being very positive with each other,” says VanDerVoort. “They’re already recognizing their letters and numbers, and they’re excited about it. They feel very independent.”

The Brighter Beginnings Academy, with space and staff for 14 preschool children, focuses on physical, intellectual, emotional and social development—and, as one of more than 300 AHSOR programs in First Nations on reserve across Canada, it also has a unique Indigenous component, shaped on the surrounding community.

With program elements that include education, nutrition, family, social support, health promotion, and culture and language, the 2,300-square-foot Brighter Beginnings Academy operates six hours a day, five days a week, with:

  • A daily bus pickup and drop-off service;
  • Three hot meals a day, prepared on site;
  • Early childhood literacy and math education, as the only Alberta-based AHSOR facility offering the Handwriting Without Tears program;
  • Monthly visits from the First Nation’s public health nurse;
  • Traditional dance classes from Bernadette Dumais of the Cree Mountain Dancers;
  • Creative expression, through art, music and storytelling; and
  • Weekly visits from the Fort McMurray Public Library.

The Brighter Beginnings Academy also provides winter coats for the kids, as well as clothing for young families in the community on an emergency basis.

“The children in this community needed a program that would prepare them for school,” says VanDerVoort. “Across Canada, 46 percent of Aboriginal kids going into kindergarten are not meeting the milestones that they should.”

Enbridge strives to share our success with the communities near our projects and operations. Through investments and partnerships, we’re committed to making a positive, lasting impact in communities.

Enbridge is the first industry member to support the Fort McMurray No. 468 First Nation’s Brighter Beginnings Academy, with a recent contribution of $10,500 being directed toward classroom setup, education resources and language retention.

“As part of our school’s own unique Indigenous component, we’ll soon be introducing Woodland Cree and Dene words, and we bring in elders as guests to talk about traditional ways,” says VanDerVoort. “We’re also looking at ways to give our literacy center more appeal. We’ve got big ideas.”