Adventist Logo Adventist Logo Adventist Logo


Angelica Cornejo, 22, being embraced by a student on the playground of Mamawi Atosketan Native School in the Canadian province of Alberta. (Andrew McChesney / Adventist Mission)

3rd Graders Taught Me About Death — and Life

Burman University student has a life-changing experience as a teacher at Mamawi Atosketan Native School.

Editor’s note: Angelica moved at the age of 5 from the Central American country of El Salvador to the Canadian province of Alberta. An elementary education major at Burman University, the 22-year-old student recently completed a practicum at Mamawi Atosketan Native School, a Seventh-day Adventist mission school for First Nation children.

By Angelica Cornejo, as told to Andrew McChesney, Adventist Mission

While I have lived in Edmonton, Canada, for most of my life, I never had much interaction with First Nation groups. I didn’t even know that First Nation reserves existed or that First Nations people face a difficult situation in Canada. I also had never heard of Mamawi Atosketan Native School, even though it is located just an hour’s drive from Edmonton.

During my junior year at Burman University, I was sent to the school for my first practicum. I didn’t know what to expect from the third-grade students, but I made big plans. I thought, “I have to make them the best students. They will learn so much from me, and they will love me!”

For the first two weeks, everything went according to plan. Every day was go, go, go.

Then we read the storybook “Buddy, the First Seeing Eye Dog” in class. The story is about the adventures of a seeing eye dog. At the end of the book, the dog dies of old age.

As we discussed the story, a little girl raised her hand.

“I once had a puppy die,” she said.

I looked at her and said, “I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine how it must feel to have a pet die.”

A boy raised his hand. “Recently I had a cousin die,” he said.

Then another boy raised his hand.

“My kokom died,” he said, using the word for “grandmother” in his native Cree language.

Suddenly, all the students were sharing their experiences about parents, siblings, cousins, and uncles and aunts who had died recently in accidents, shootings, drug overdoses, and house fires. As I listened to the children talk about their personal encounters with death, it struck me that my purpose at the school was not just to teach. My responsibility was so much greater than just filling the children with knowledge.

The children are living through things that I have never experienced. So many things are going on at home, including poverty, family trouble, and alcohol and drug abuse. Then after dealing with these difficulties at home, the children come to school and must focus on learning the alphabet and math.

It was at that moment that I realized that my purpose was to serve the children. This school not only provides First Nation children with an education, but it also teaches them about Jesus, which is hard to do on the reserve.

As I worked at the school, I decided to start attending the Adventist church on the reserve of the Samson band. I got to see where my children come from and where they live. I saw that their homes are run down, and they don’t have paved roads or sidewalks. It’s like a tiny Third World country in the middle of Alberta, and that blew my mind.

When my practicum came to an end, I had built such strong connections with the children that I cried. I couldn’t believe that I had thought before starting the practicum that I had so much to offer. In the end, it was the children who offered the most. They have so much love, and there is so much that they can do. It only takes someone to see that potential in them and to give them an opportunity to grow.

The biggest thing that I learned at the school is that the children are watching everything that you say and do. I realized that they needed to see Jesus in me. It doesn’t matter if they remember the geometric shapes that we studied. All that matters to me is they remember Jesus and His love.

I didn’t want to leave. If I could stay at the school, I would stay forever.

Angelica Cornejo reflecting on her practicum at Mamawi Atosketan Native School. (Andrew McChesney / Adventist Mission)

Part of the Thirteenth Sabbath Offering in second quarter 2018 will help the Mamawi Atosketan Native School expand its education program so it can teach more children about Jesus.