Working to improve aboriginal education cited as one of School District 53’s biggest challenges

By on October 10, 2017

Improving aboriginal education is one of the big challenges faced by School District 53.

But a strategic plan is in the works to help students achieve academic success.

Last week the board reviewed the Aboriginal Education Annual Report submitted by district aboriginal teacher Helen Gallagher and district principal Shendah Benoit.

Superintendent of Schools Bev Young said while completion rates have been improving over the last 10 years overall, they have seen a decrease in district results for the last three and are working hard to understand the contributing factors.

Young said the strategic plan includes goals to increase students’ sense of belonging, their cultural awareness and history. It also includes sensitivity training for educators and students.

“We have a commitment and obligation to improve results for our aboriginal learners,” Young said.

In 2016-2017, there were 453 students of aboriginal ancestry in the district.

Promising practices include a “parent club” at Southern Okanagan Secondary School (SOSS) involving parents of children in Grade 8 and 9. This club attracted seven parents and their children.

Teacher Ryan Baptiste is continuing the EPIC program at SOSS involving aboriginal and non-aboriginal students (11 in Grade 9 and five in Grade 10). EPIC stands for Experiential Project-based Indigenous Community.

EPIC students forego the traditional school timetable and undertake a number of projects, many of which are facilitated by the First Nations community. For example, students could carve a canoe paddle or construct a sweat lodge.

School principal Tracy Harrington previously stated that learning from a textbook on a desk within four walls doesn’t work for some students. But she said EPIC connects aboriginal students to their learning in a different way.

Baptiste believes the program engages the students and gives them a sense of belonging.

Other practices identified in the report include a workshop on understanding how trauma impacts learning.

In addition, the district is hoping to establish an indigenous teacher education centre in the South Okanagan for students who want to teach.

This year two aboriginal support workers and a teacher attended a training session for “Girl Power” and “2 B Boys,” resulting in the establishment of clubs in two elementary schools.

The district also hosted the 10th annual pow wow this year at Oliver Elementary School.

School District 53 is diligently working on four goals to improve aboriginal education. The first one is to increase efforts to engage parents and families. For example, there will be an increased effort to meet off site and closer to homes.

The second goal is to increase a sense of belonging for all aboriginal students. Research indicates that the more students feel a sense of belonging in their school, the greater the chance of regular attendance and completion.

The district plans to increase the presence of elders in schools, showcase students’ work, and host student forums.

The third goal: Improve the academic performance of aboriginal students. This will be done by more personalized learning and incorporating aboriginal world views and perspectives in the classroom.

Goal No. 4 is to increase transitions and school completion rates. One way the district plans to do this is develop partnerships with post-secondary institutions to coordinate mentorship programs with high school students. Another is after-school tutoring programs.

Gallagher said the new curriculum has created more opportunities for aboriginal support workers to connect with teachers, encouraging them to teach new material and become familiar with local culture.

“Teachers are interested and are requesting more field trips out on the land, and for a deeper knowledge of how the local land can be connected to student learning,” Gallagher said.

LYONEL DOHERTY

Special to the Times

 

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