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Now Ryan does. In fact, he's among the top three readers in the school's Grade 3, says Black. It took months of one on one daily half hour sessions, at first feeding him a Cheerio a minute to keep his focus on the book, but Ryan grasped the concepts. His desk still sits right beside his teacher's, but now all he needs is a word from her and she's got his attention again.

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students three years ago as Enoch parents chose to bus about 70 per cent of the community's children to Edmonton or county schools. But last year, enrolment hit 260, says Cardinal.

"He didn't know that you read from left Converse All Star White Leather High Tops

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There are others. In fact, all of the children entering Grades 2 and 3 at Kitaskinaw have at least basic literacy and most are reading at grade level, says Black, who recently retired from teaching.

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Cardinal, founding principal at Edmonton's aboriginal high school, the Amiskwaciy Academy, was hired as education director and then principal at Enoch four years ago, just as the casino started to fill a charity fund for services on the reserve. Now one third of the school budget is casino money.

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But there are still students in Grades 7 and 8 who can't read.

For years, Enoch's Kitaskinaw school fit the trends in First Nations schools low marks, high dropout rate, poorly maintained facilities, say parents. The 30 year old portable classrooms had mice and mould, while students risked impaling themselves on broken wood and steel on the playground.

Bright, prefabricated classrooms replaced the portables; a new playground is on order. Inside, a new library gets crowded with kids every recess. Where four years ago the line of books stretched only half the length of one wall, now new books fill shelves on every wall and the floor is scattered with brightly painted tables and book carts.

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Because students trickle in to register throughout September, administrators won't have this year's final count for another week. Cardinal is hopeful. "It says (parents) are showing trust in the work Converse Black Leather

"That sounds pretty scary," says Enoch councillor Wayne Morin. "What does that do to the kids?"

that we're doing; they like what's happening here and their children feel safe."

´╗┐Gambling on a fragile recovery in Enoch

But the outlook is finally starting to turn around. Local residents credit increased funding from the River Cree Casino and the efforts of Phyllis Cardinal, an educator with 34 years of experience and the tenacity of a bulldog.

to right, top to bottom," says Don Black, who taught a special program called Reading Recovery at Enoch First Nation's Converse All Star Overseas Black Monochrome High Top Ox Leather Kitaskinaw School west of Edmonton.

But the signs of progress in Enoch now are clear.

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Many parents still don't trust the school, and they only have to look 50 kilometres west to see how unstable a reserve school can be. At Paul band, teachers filed grievances against the director of education that remain unresolved. Instead, the principal and almost the entire teaching staff found themselves without contracts last June when the chief declared he wanted a "clean slate."

"Just learning to read turned things around," says Black. "He felt good about himself. His fighting in the yard pretty much disappeared. He is truly a fantastic success story."

But locals know it's a story of tenuous success as well.

The school can hold 500, but enrolment was just 143 Converse All Star All White

Enoch students and parents are responding. Three years ago, only one student had perfect attendance, and he was in kindergarten. Last June, 70 students were awarded attendance certificates at a special ceremony.

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