Teaching Profession

Canadian Teacher in Indigenous Community Wins $1 Million Ed. Prize

By Madeline Will — March 20, 2017 1 min read
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Maggie MacDonnell, a teacher in a remote village in Quebec, Canada, has won the 3rd annual Global Teaching Prize, sponsored by the Varkey Foundation.

For the past six years, MacDonnell has taught middle and high schoolers in the Salluit village—the second-northernmost Inuit indigenous community in Quebec. It has a population of about 1,300 and can only be reached by air. The tiny village is plagued with high teenage pregnancy rates, high levels of sexual abuse, drug and alcohol use, and young adult suicides—there were six such deaths in 2015.

“Witnessing the funerals of my students is one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through, and I never want to be in that position again,” MacDonnell said in a video made by the foundation. “As an educator, I build programs that cultivate resilience, hope, and build self-belief in my students.”

These programs teach students life skills, from cooking to mechanics, that are based around the importance of acts of kindness. MacDonnell has secured funding for an in-school nutrition program, where students prepare healthy snacks for fellow students, as well as funding for a hot meals program for the community. MacDonnell has also established a partnership with the community’s day-care center, so her students can learn on-the-job training for early-childhood education. She also established a fitness center to give her students an outlet for their stress

MacDonnell was awarded the $1 million prize on Sunday in Dubai. French astronaut Thomas Pesequt announced her name in a video message from the International Space Station.

She told the Associated Press after her win that she plans to use the prize money by establishing an environmental stewardship program to reconnect youth with their cultural traditions.

Last year, a Palestinian teacher won the award for her efforts helping youth who experience trauma through an emphasis on play. The inaugural prize went to a veteran teacher and author from Maine who advocates the importance of giving students the freedom to develop a love of reading—she wrote several books about the reading-workshop instructional model, in which students select their own books and have time for independent reading and discussion.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.