Going With The Flow: Stephanie Petrachek’s Winding Path Back To The Classroom
“Life will take you on many different courses and sometimes just going with the flow of that will take you to a place where you feel really good about yourself,” Stephanie Petracheck says. For her, that place is in Narol, Manitoba, a rural municipality outside of Winnipeg, where she’s a wife and a mother to a toddler, expecting another baby and pursuing her education as part of the Community Aboriginal teacher education program.
For most of her life, Petrachek lived in Winnipeg, but she and her husband decided six years ago they no longer wanted to live in the city, and that raising children would be better outside the city limits. They fell in love with Narrow, where their daughter loves to play outside and the move connected them back to their roots.
Professionally, she did her initial training at Red River Community College in the Child and Youth Care Program. She worked with at risk and inner city youth in group home or social service organization settings for six years, until she needed a change. “It just became very tough to be a part of a system that I felt was quite broken, so I pursued a totally different career path,” she recalls.
After working in transportation for a few years, Petrachek found her way back to working with youth through a Winnipeg-based agency called Marymound as an educational assistant. She noticed a big gap between Indigenous educators and the Indigenous community and she found a program at the University of Winnipeg to try to help fill it.
Petrachek found inspiration in her school community. “My cohort has gotten me through the past four years. We went digital for a little while because of COVID, so it was a little different than what I had anticipated, but it's been really good and there’s only two more years left because it is a joint bachelor program, a bachelor of arts and a Bachelor of Education combined. I'm pushing through,” she explains.
She’s also inspired by the teaching style of her elders and her experiences working with Indigenous youth in education. “A lot of my students had a really tough time connecting in the classroom to anyone and it's almost as if when you let them know a little bit about your background, they have an easier time connecting and it's something that is easy to bring out in them. Then there's that foundation that set and then you can work on the academics,” she shares.
Her advice for youth thinking of branching out to follow their dream is supportive. “Leaving home is such a hard decision; leaving your family and friends can be such a struggle, but I think so much beauty can come from it. Sometimes there's better opportunities elsewhere. Sometimes that risk has such a great reward. For me, now living rural and having to travel into the city, it's hard. But the rewards pay off. If you're feeling like that's something that you want to do or pursue, I say go for it. Some of our biggest challenges and hurdles in life, when you overcome that, the reward is so great,” she says. Her classmates who travel an hour and a half every night to come to school tell her that it’s worth it to have a fulfilling career.
My children are my motivation to be successful in life and to do great things to set them up for a path where they feel that they can do well in life as well.
Becoming a parent while studying has been a challenge and also a reason to hope. “I keep thinking about that moment when I finally get to get my degrees and just walk across the stage, knowing that I have my two children in tow will be so special, but it's so hard getting there. It'll be a hard journey but we'll get there,” Petrachek confides.
Family time and time outdoors have been her escape, a way to center and ground herself. ”When you're sitting behind a computer doing your studies or in a classroom all the time, it's so hard to feel any connection to anything. Being outdoors has been a big motivator for me with school and just finding a balance for sure,” she explains. Financial balance has been tough too, but grant programs and bursaries have helped.
If she could tell her younger self anything, it would be to not be afraid to experience life before deciding on a career and not to be afraid to take a different path than her peers. She tried going to university after graduating from high school and in the first few weeks she knew it wasn’t the right choice for her. Even though she knew that, leaving school the first time took courage. “You feel shame if you decide to drop out and pursue something else,” she expresses. She called her mom to tell her she’d dropped out of school and she went to work full time at McDonald’s for three years.
Petrachek experienced life and returned to post-secondary to something she was passionate about: being a friendly face for Indigenous youth in the classroom. She knows how meaningful having relatable role models was for her. “I didn't really have anyone in my community that identified as Métis, so as I got older, seeing that there were successful Métis people and women out there, it was huge for me,” she remembers.
Now a wife and mother, student and future teacher, living in a community she loves, it all came from going with the flow. Life took Stephanie Petrachek on a bit of a different path than she expected, but she’s now in a place where she feels good about herself and the contribution she can make in the classroom for Indigenous youth who need to be inspired.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.