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Long-time friends share Educator of the Year award

By Steph Crosier

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BELLEVILLE, ON (03/05/11) Dorothy Lazore(left) and Sherry Procunier are awarded the Sir Mackenzie Bowell Award Tuesday afternoon for teaching the Mohawk language to childern and adults in their community. Photo by Steph Croiser

Two long time friends have been rewarded for preserving tradition, culture, and the Mohawk language at Quinte Mohawk School and the Tyendinaga community.

Dorothy Lazore and Sherry Procunier, who have been friends for 17 years, are this year’s winners of the Sir Mackenzie Bowell Award for Educator of the Year. The reception was held Tuesday afternoon at the Bay of Quinte Golf and Country Club and was hosted by the Education Week Committee.

“I was very surprised,” said Procunier. “We had no clue.”

“I feel excited,” said Lazore. “I can’t believe that all the work that we did was dug up and recognized. I never believed I would get an award. I come from out of town; I just come in to teach. So for me it was really unbelievable.”

The award has been given out for 45 years and only once before have two people shared it. Selection committee members said they could not have picked one without the other.

They were chosen because of their determination to teach the Mohawk language. Both women teach at Quinte Mohawk School and Lazore also works at Moira Secondary School. In addition to regular classes they contribute to the Ministry of Education curriculum document for native language. They also volunteer their time to speak at community gatherings to talk in and about the Mohawk language all over Ontario and other provinces.

The women teach mostly children but they also offer classes to adults in their community. An important tool they use for teaching is technology. With the use of computers, smart boards, and speech programs they are able to teach every type of learner.

“They embodied what education is and developing such a unique curriculum by working so closely together,” said Laura Naumann a committee member who also works at Loyalist College.

“The letters from their former student is what really spoke to me,” said Melanie Barrett, a committee member from Albert College in Belleville. “It is evident that they were a big impact on their students’ lives.”

Lazore and Procunier impact their students and their community so much because they teach the Mohawk language. Lazore and Procunier not only teach children but they also teach adults. Josephine Gabriel is Lazore’s neighbour.

“(Lazore) really helped preserve and promote the language all over,” said Gabriel. “Not just here but also back home and in Quebec. She was teaching a lot of the native teachers how to read and write the language. She was my teacher in 1980 when I first started. She taught me how to read and write the language. I could speak it but I couldn’t read or write my language. And she taught us.”

Now Gabriel is teaching the language and helps Lazore and Procunier to write the curriculum.

Their curriculum is unique because they use a lot of technology to teach it.

“Children like computers, so they learn easier using them,” said Procunier. “It’s greatly enhanced the language learning because we have all these visual aids now on huge smartboards.”

Impacting the community and children together is exactly what the committee members are looking for when they choose winners. Last year’s winner, Sheryl Parker, who presented the women with the trophy, explains it best.

“You are going beyond,” said Parker. “Your impact is past the classroom, you’re contributing to the larger community of education.”

Belleville Councillor Garnet Thompson Quinte West Mayor John Williams complimented the women.

“Two-years-old to 18-years-old, these people have come across as role models for them,” said Thompson. “So these people need to be recognized.”

Williams hopes that the influences that award-winning teachers pass on to children will influence them in how they participate in their communities.

“It could be volunteering or it could be all types of things,” said Williams.  “The more they get that type of direction I think it helps them become better citizens and therefore help our community.”

Michael Procunier, Sherry’s husband, said he is very proud of her.

“I think it’s fabulous,” said Michael. “They’ve been friends teaching for 17 years. The language is important to the Mohawk culture and it is really valuable.”

Advice from Procunier and Lazore to other teachers include:

“Keep doing what you’re doing and keep working hard,” says Procunier. “Because you think you aren’t making a difference but really you are.”

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