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Carleigh Johnston wants children from her community to experience the joy of learning that has enriched her life - photo by Martin Dee
Carleigh Johnston wants children from her community to experience the joy of learning that has enriched her life - photo by Martin Dee

UBC Reports | Vol. 54 | No. 5 | May 1, 2008

Forester to Plant the Seeds of Learning

By Brian Lin

When Carleigh Johnston graduates this spring, her pocketbook will be fuller than most of her fellow students.

“I have no student loan,” says the Faculty of Forestry graduate. “In fact, I’ll have some money in the bank.”

The first in her family to complete college, Johnston financed her education by painstakingly applying for various scholarships and bursaries while holding down summer jobs.

“You have to look, but financial support is out there,” says Johnston, who is a member of the Lhedli T’enneh Indian Band in Prince George.

Growing up in Vernon with close ties to her extended family on the reserve, Johnston says for many rural Aboriginal children, education is the farthest thing from their mind.

“Going to university is encouraged on the reserve, but is often thought of as an unobtainable goal,” says Johnston. That’s why she and her fiancé -- a biologist she met at UBC and is marrying this June -- plan on setting up their new home in Prince George, where Johnston hopes to take up teaching and impress upon youth the importance of education.

“I want to give back for all the opportunities I got growing up,” says Johnston. “I was raised in a small town and really fit in there. Besides, I hate rush hour in Vancouver.”

Johnston discovered her knack for teaching last summer when she took a summer job with the Interior Logging Association. She visited more than 40 schools over two months to educate K-9 students on the use of the forest by human and animals, and to demystify forestry as a profession. Her free time was spent giving talks to campers -- or “kids age 4 to 90,” as she put it -- at three Provincial Parks.

The unadulterated enthusiasm for learning that she saw in children must be fostered and cultivated, says Johnston, especially in Aboriginal communities. To do her part, she sat on the faculty’s First Nations Council of Advisors and served as the student liaison with the Association of BC Forests Professionals for the Forestry Undergraduate Society.

This summer she’s working with Aboriginal children in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to develop and deliver after-school programs, and then it’s on to a long list of to-dos that includes learning Carrier, her native tongue -- a goal sparked by a serendipitous encounter.

“One of my roommates took Carrier here at UBC and one night I heard a familiar voice coming from her room,” Johnston recalls. “Turns out my grandmother recorded the audio materials for this course. There is so much richness in the language and I get to learn it from one of the best.”

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“Loving and respecting your neighbour as you would yourself. It’s from the Book of Matthew in the Bible, which we studied as an example of poetry in my first-year English class. The same concept popped up again last year in my natural conservation class. It encompasses everything I believe in and everything I want to achieve in life.”  


Last reviewed 29-Apr-2008

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