An easy workday commute for Jessica Ogden Bandstra ’99, ’01 means climbing into a six-seater bush plane and flying an hour and a half north of her home in Prince George, British Columbia. At the landing strip in Tsay Keh Dene someone waits to drive her another hour north on a logging road to the First Nation community of Kwadacha. Her more demanding commutes require driving two hours on paved roads then three hours on dirt logging roads.
“It’s my dream job,” Bandstra said.
A speech language pathologist, Bandstra serves seven remote First Nation schools in British Columbia with student populations ranging from 150 to four. In Kwadacha she stays for a week, also visiting the school in Tsay Keh Dene.
“I like adventure,” she said.
It’s more than that. Bandstra, who grew up in rural northern Michigan, has known since she was at Calvin that she wanted to work in rural schools with underserved children. “I’m drawn to students growing up in lower-income homes, like I did. That’s where my heart is.”
Like speech language pathologists everywhere, Bandstra gives standardized language assessment tests to determine the particular kind of help her students need. Parents in First Nation schools sometimes question her about those tests or are wary about meeting with her. “It’s understandable,” Bandstra said. “They’ve had a very negative experience with schools.”
For more than a century, the government, in collaboration with the Catholic and Protestant churches in Canada, forced indigenous children to attend residential schools where they had no contact with their parents and were forbidden all expression of their language and culture. The last residential school closed in 1996.
First Nation-run schools encourage indigenous culture and language, and Bandstra talks with teachers to learn about the local language. “I’m not here to dictate what they should do, but to support language development. I want these children to have the best opportunities possible.”