Students at J.W. Walker School filmed by CIBC Foundation in commercial for Connected North

Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Connected North provides virtual learning for remote communities such as Fort Frances. Proudly supported by CIBC Foundation, the platform provides STEM learning to students, giving them access opportunities beyond what they typically see.

Earlier this year, CIBC Foundation filmed a classroom of grade 5 students from J.W. Walker School for a promotional video—teaching them about the filming process and inviting them into an opportunity that educators and students alike say was one of the best experiences they have ever been involved in.

“For my students, the remoteness of Fort Frances means that they don’t always see that there are other opportunities out there,” said Jessica Sweigard, teacher at J.W. Walker School, in the CIBC commercial. “So when I think about potential, I’m thinking about what my students could be able to do even if they can’t see it themselves.”

Following a typical day in a grade 5 classroom, students in the video say they feel happy when they know they’ll be doing a Connected North lesson. Many of the lessons involve maths and sciences, some of the students’ favorite subjects.

The video also shows students engaging with Alex Allard-Gray, a Connect North Provider and Science Educator.

Originally from Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation, Allard-Gray says it’s important for Indigenous students to see themselves reflected in the classroom because it will translate to them being able to see themselves in the workplace.

He teaches the students in the commercial about light refraction by sharing traditional Mi’gmaq knowledge of spearfishing.

At the first Rainy River District School Board (RRDSB) regular board meeting for the 2023-2024 year, teachers explained that the promotion video project was first introduced to J.W. Walker in September last year.

A production team arrived at J.W. Walker a cold winter day on March 2 at 7 a.m. in preparation for a full day of filming. “The sun was shining but it was minus 27,” a teacher said.

Many students were excited to see familiar faces from Connected North sessions walking through the halls of their own school.

The production team took time to get to know the students, making them feel more comfortable to share their thoughts in the video. Students were excited and eager to participate in the filming footage, even if it took more than a few takes to get right.

In addition to the hand-on learning portion of Connect North sessions, the filming project gave students at J.W. Walker the opportunity to receive hands-on learning about making a commercial.

“Some of the students actually got an opportunity to try on a camera,” said a teacher at the board meeting. “It was really heavy. And they really learned a lot of the process. The crew was really great about answering questions. So it wasn’t just them filming this all day, they got to learn a lot about what goes into the production.”

Teachers said they were surprised that it took a full-day of filming to make a 1-minute video.

After the project was completed, Connected North organizers raved about J.W. Walker for their level of enthusiasm and support during the whole process.

“Thank you J.W. Walker staff for all of your support and teamwork during the recent filming of the CIBC commercial,” they wrote. “The level of caring collaboration and flexibility was more than extraordinary. I’ve always felt welcome at J.W. Walker and the filming crew was blown away at how invested the entire school was in ensuring that the RRDSB communities were authentically represented in this short video.”

“I’m grateful for all of your efforts every day in using Connected North, but wanted to give you all an extra special shout out for that intense and important showcase of the program in action in a phenomenal school.”

Sweigard introduced Connected North to J.W. Walker School when she began employment at the school.

Regarding last year’s participation, J.W. Walker had 209 Connected North sessions for students in kindergarten to grade 6.

“We are fortunate to have Connected North at our school,” Sweigard said. “It does give our students many opportunities that they wouldn’t have had.”

She ended by thanking all the grade 5 students for participating in the video and attending the board meeting.

RRDSB held their first regular board meeting of the 2023-2024 academic year on September 5 at 7 p.m. and have returned to their monthly meeting schedule, holding meetings scheduled for 7:00 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month in the school year, unless a date falls during a scheduled school break.

Members of the public are encouraged to attend online through the link on their website calendar.

The CIBC Foundation commercial can be viewed on YouTube at