Maggie MacDonnell wins Global Teacher Prize for her life-changing work in isolated Arctic community

maggie macdonnell

Maggie MacDonnell grew up in rural Nova Scotia. After completing her Masters degree, she sought out opportunities to teach indigenous communities in Canada and for the last six years, she has been a teacher in a village called Salluit, nestled in the Canadian Arctic. This middle and high school teacher beat out thousands of applicants to win the Global Teacher Prize, 2017. Global Teacher Prize is one of the most prestigious gestures of recognition for excellent teachers worldwide.

The community, where Maggie lives has a population of just over 1,300 and the place cannot be reached by road, but only by air. In winter, temperatures are as low as minus 25C. The harsh weather conditions of the village have resulted in extraordinarily high rates of teacher turnover. The school where Maggie teaches has no principal; he resigned after six weeks of stress leave. Most other teachers simply leave their posts midway through their term.

There is a high rate of self-harm, depression, sexual abuse, and suicide among the students of the region. Teenage pregnancies are also very common in the area.

To combat all these factors, Maggie established a fitness center in the village so that students can embrace a healthier lifestyle instead of resorting to drugs or alcohol. The life skills program initiated by Maggie, which is specifically meant for girls has seen a 500 per cent improvement in girls’ registration in the life skills program that were formerly dominated by boys. She also allocated funds for a $20,000 in-school nutrition program and motivated her own students to raise $37,000 for diabetes prevention.

Maggie’s whole approach has been about turning students from ‘problems’ to ‘solutions’ through initiatives such as ‘acts of kindness’ which has dramatically improved school attendance. Specific examples include: running a community kitchen, attending suicide prevention training and hiking through national parks to understand environmental stewardship, says the Global Teacher Prize page.

Maggie MacDonnell was awarded the Global Teacher Prize of $1 million in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Maggie is planning to use the $1 million prize to further improve her community’s lifestyle and infrastructure.

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