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Candidates grapple with aboriginal achievement
Aboriginal students are some of the most marginalized students in B.C.
They are disengaged, consistently struggle through academics, and in many cases drop out of school prematurely.
Chilliwack is no exception.
As reported in the B.C. Education Ministry's 2008-09 completion rates, just 45.4 per cent of aboriginal students in Chilliwack graduated six years after starting Grade 8.
Tyrone McNeil, president of the First Nations education steering community, told The Progress, in a past interview, that more than 95 per cent of Chilliwack's aboriginal students who start kindergarten don't graduate.
School trustee candidates were asked by The Progress what they would do to better serve aboriginal students if elected.
These are their responses:
I have extensive experience in aboriginal communitities having served in Manitoba, Ontario and B.C. as a government advsor, development officer and executive director. As executive director I was responsible for an on-reserve pre-school in the Okanagan. Although not aboriginal myself, I am familiar with the achievement issues and workable solutions which must involve the aboriginal community parents and leaders participating in providing the framework solutions. Success has been found with culturally appropriate history and language programs, mentorship and aboriginal teachers and assistants. Successful graduates and elders inspire and mentor the students. Many such programs are volunteer driven and thus cost effective.
I have been involved with working with young aboriginal students from various bands. One of the biggest challenges is the disconnect they perceive between life in their bands and life in the "school system". I realize that we have tried to bridge this gap but we need to be more creative - why not do various educational ventures actually outside of schools in their context - getting aboriginal parents involved. Our institutions need to be more responsive - to think "out of the box" may mean to think outside of our school buildings.
To better serve aboriginal students we must first acknowledge that we do not live in a post-colonial world. We cannot have policies that are designed to assimilate aboriginal students in to the system, the system should adjust to include aspects of Sto:lo culture and language. Feeling like you come from outside of the school system can create disengagement. Working closer with the aboriginal community to incorporate Sto:lo culture and language will make aboriginal students more engaged with our education system. It is especially important to include local communities in consultation on programs to accomplish this. Real incorporation of ideas from the First Nations community is required not just programs "on the side" that only aboriginal students participate in. Proper engagement with the school system will increase these student's success.
In Jan 2010, The Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement Program was implemented. I support the program as it gives the aboriginals in the Chilliwack community a heightened chance of success. I will better serve the aboriginal student population by seeking to implement quarterly assessment reports based on performance evaluation to ensure goals are met. At this time, these reports are provided annually and I believe in order to recognize at what point in the school year these children struggle the most, it will be easier to determine the causes and effectively work towards improving those areas.
There is progress being made.
• We must recognize First Nations inherent right to education.
• We must understand the history and work together for a brighter future.
• The Chilliwack School District resides in the unsurrendered traditional territories of the Stó:lō people
• Aboriginal students include non-status First Nation, Metis, Inuit, living on-reserve or off-reserve.
• I have been the trustee liaison to the Aboriginal Education Advisory Committee since Dec 08 – requested to continue this work for my full term – uncontested
• I voted in support of both the Local Education Agreements and Enhancement Agreement
• I witnessed both the Local Education Agreements and the Enhancement Agreement being signed off
• I have attended a FNESC (First Nations Education Steering Committee) workshop and recommend that all trustees attend these workshops
• I follow several aboriginal twitter accounts
• I use the Halq'eméylem App
• I have read the Stó:lō Historical Atlas
• I have attended the Stó:lō awards and seen the results of the work that is being done
• I have read the Indian Act and referred to it many times
• And more…
• But the greatest thing of all is to build a trusting relationship. This takes time. You must be willing to engage in difficult conversations.
• It is absolutely vital to provide a sense of belonging to our aboriginal students, to celebrate and understand their culture along with aboriginal ways of knowing and being
• I will continue to do these things and focus on developing relationships with our aboriginal communities away from the “bricks and mortar” schools. Instead go out to communities, build bridges, tear down barriers and gain understanding so we can work together to improve our aboriginal student achievement.
Our greatest challenge is to improve student learning by helping ALL students reach their potential. I believe we could assist aboriginal students in reaching their full potential by providing relevant instruction within classrooms which demonstrate a sense of belonging, are socially comfortable and culturally enhanced. I would support initiatives which involve the aboriginal community in identifying program priorities, establishing the targeted funding, developing a strategic plan and implementing a full review on current programming. I would support an Advisory Committee with a sole purpose of identifying program and service needs, conducting research and providing best practice recommendations for student success.
I would advocate funding to implement programs in reading readiness and literacy skills and would support an oral language development program to assist students to improve their reading readiness at the primary level. I would also support a tutoring program at the community level and at both the elementary and secondary level to assist students in homework completion and provide academic support to students based on needs. In my view a transitional project between elementary and middle school as well as middle to senior high where recent graduates and elders would share positive experiences and successes would prove beneficial.
"What would I do?" I don't have 'the' answer. What I do know is we need to be better.
Therefore step one in achieving 'better' is the continuation of the conversations we are presently having with the educational leaders, political leaders (chiefs) and parents in the aboriginal community.
As with most complex issues the answer is elusive and requires a commitment of time and resources from all partners, including the Board of Education.
We have come a long way in the journey to support our First Nations students. I am encouraged that we are moving in the right direction.
As a trustee, I would support our First Nations students with the same basic strategies that the school district employs with the rest of the student population. The focus must be on early intervention to address the challenges. I would advocate for more classroom support starting in kindergarten. Having full day kindergarten without the corresponding education assistant support for the students is a travesty. If we don’t lay a strong foundation under our students then why should we expect improved outcomes in student achievement?
The school district needs to continue doing its good work with our First Nations students. We need to foster our relationships and agreements with the First Nations chiefs and councils and collaborate effectively with education workers and parents and guardians. These relationships are built on trust and the board of education must show a humble desire to work with our First Nations partners.
Currently there is an Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement in effect. The policies will continue until the end of April 1, 2014 when the agreement is scheduled for review.
As a board we need to focus on increasing knowledge of and respect for aboriginal culture, language and history through the utilization of relevant curricula programs and materials. This includes opportunities for all students to recognize and celebrate the unique and interdependent cultural aspects of both aboriginal and non-aboriginal societies.
The Chilliwack school district has a sizeable aboriginal student population; the board should employ qualified aboriginal staff including teachers, custodians, maintenance, etc., so as to provide all students with good role models.
Recognizing that aboriginal students present a unique set of circumstances and that the board must be sensitive to those needs, the board must encourage aboriginal students to strive for the high expectations and standards set for all students.
As a trustee I would want to evaluate how much money is given by the federal government per aboriginal student and then how much of that money is actually spent on that student for their education.
Because of the many challenges that aboriginal children face on a daily basis, sadly education is not high on the priority list for them. As a trustee I would want to work with the AEAC (Aboriginal Education Advisory Committee) and build a strong relationship with the aboriginal people so that we can find different system models that will work for these students as it is obvious that the current system model is not working. If we work closely with the AEAC and build a system that reflects the understanding of the aboriginal people, their beliefs and culture then we can adapt the learning to what these students require.
We need to engage a learning style that works specifically for the aboriginal students. It is important to teach students to learn how to learn. When students are involved in something that has meaning to their life, there is a greater chance for success. Determining the proper learning style is the difficult task. The Aboriginal Lit Kits are a great start to embracing these students into wanting to learn more. The literacy kits will support the Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement that has been set up and will allow greater success in learning. I will continuue to seek alternative solutions to enhance the learning experience for aboriginal students and for all students.
For the 32 years I was an educator, the lack of overall success and alienation of aboriginal students has been a major issue and item of discussion. Aboriginal, educational and governmental leaders have spent countless dollars and an inordinate amount of time and resources trying to solve these major issues/problems with little overall success and improved results.
In the past, the prevailing view was that all aboriginal students need to fit into the existing educational system. Obviously the data shows that the traditional educational system just does not work for all aboriginal students and could be considered a major failure. Many aboriginal families have had negative experiences with their schooling and reject the traditional one size fits all educational system. Like all members of our community, aboriginal parents and leaders want their children to have academic success and attain a quality education. However, they are not or should be willing to sacrifice their culture, traditional beliefs and values to do so.
The board needs to continue to focus on quality instructional practices, assessment strategies, and building a supportive school climate that meet the needs of aboriginal students. We need to continue to improve and nurture relationships and parental engagement with our aboriginal partners within our schools and school district. When dealing with aboriginal educational issues we need to set priorities and policy to do the best we can to be aware of and accommodate our aboriginal students heritage, cultural traditions, and values and celebrate these differences in our schools.
Perhaps it is time to look at a Center for Aboriginal Education (similar to what they do in Winnipeg) where aboriginal students of all ages can go to complete and attain their graduation with more flexible timelines and structures, when or if they find the regular system non-effective or meeting their needs. Maybe we need to hire more aboriginal teachers and/or increase aboriginal content in the learning outcomes in our curriculums. Maybe the the statistic of the number of aboriginal students graduating six years after entering Grade 8 is not a significant or important indicator of success. I personally don't have all the answers but believe we all need to support our aboriginal students and do what we can to help them find more success at school. The key is to have the District continue to work together with Aboriginal leaders, families and students in a cooperative manner to find solutions.
To help the Sto:lo and other First Nations in Chilliwack I will first listen, very carefully, to their educational leaders and then I will work with hard, honest effort to make their solutions a reality. There is a long and dark history of outsiders telling First Nations what is best for them and I will not help to continue that. Sto:lo leaders and parents know perfectly well what their problems are and what needs to be done to make life better for their students. I intend to be their ally in that project.
I believe as board members we would ensure that the Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement is being implemented in all areas of the school district. It is vital to have conversation with staff, parents, students and the community around aboriginal student achievement. It is also important for board members and senior staff to have continued conversation with the chiefs.
I would start by asking the aboriginal EA's and teachers in the district for their input. I would also try to meet with the leaders in the aboriginal community. Some of the issues I can see are better communications with the bands, an establishment/continuation of transitional programs so that aboriginal students can be eased into certain courses or schools so that they will have a better chance of success. Can we look at ways to improve communications with parents? Some schools already have alternative meeting places with parents, such as home visits, coffee shops, local hall, band office etc...? This could help with the facilitation of better communication between teachers and parents.
Tutoring programs set up through the bands has worked well with some schools, perhaps that is something that can work well in other places. What about talking to students? We have some amazing aboriginal leaders as students who have been successful. They’ve been successful because they’ve found a way to connect with school. There’s something at school that is theirs. The challenge is finding something at the school for aboriginal students that can connect them to their school community.
The local education agreement (LEA) was signed in 2009. This is a binding agreement between SD33 and 10 Sto:lo communities. A significant part of the agreement is to monitor aboriginal student achievement on a half yearly basis and year end. This is too late to help students at risk and I would like to see ongoing monitoring in the classroom. I would also like to see more professional development for teachers in the area of aboriginal education.
I wonder if aboriginal students have been surveyed to see how our education system can better meet their needs?
I think a lot of people blame the parents and the past for aboriginal students and their lack of school completion. I would make sure the school district is providing the support for these students, their parents and their teachers need to better understand the educational needs of aboriginal students living within two cultures, their own and western culture.
I think we need to build on the relationships between students, parents, teachers and the community as a whole. My grandmother always said "It takes a village to raise a child" In today's world I think the community as a whole is needed to help raise our future generations. We have to acknowledge the past, learn from it and continue to move forward.
The Chilliwack Board of Education has two initiatives for our aboriginal students – one the Enhancement Agreement, whose purpose is to increase students belonging at school, increase academic success of all aboriginal students and increase the respect and understanding of language and culture, and two - the First Nation Local Education Agreement. The Aboriginal Education Advisory Committee is charged with monitoring the achievement of the goals set out in the agreement and make recommendations to the Board. Both are consultative community driven agreements. Engaging students in their culture and language enhances their interest in learning and school. The board role is monitoring results and making adjustments as necessary and celebrating success whenever possible .
The opportunities for increased success of our aboriginal students may lie in the 21st century learning model of personalized and inquiry based learning that focuses on a student’s passion, skills and interests.
As a Métis person, I think all trustees need to read SD33 enhancement agreement. It tells us what and how aboriginal people would like our children to be treated and schooled.
I think the school district could better serve the aboriginal student population in several areas;
1. Create a sense of pride for aboriginal culture not only among aboriginal students, but also the whole student population.
2. Continued support of First Nations issues by the school planning councils.
3. Ensure that the school achievement contracts, are harmonized with the Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreements.
4. We need to find more and creative ways to reach out to the aboriginal parents. I would especially encourage the Parent Advisory Councils and the DPAC to reach out to aboriginal parents: both on reserve and off reserve.
5. Continued emphasis on the Sto:lo Awards Ceremony, Youth Leadership Conferences.
We're fortunate that, within Chilliwack, we have a signed Aboriginal Enhanced Agreement with the board and the bands in our community committed to improving the success for our aboriginal students. I have, for several years now, sat on the superintendent's council where we have representatives from the Métis and aboriginal ed. committees. As District Parent Advisory Council President I invited superintendent Michael Audet to a meeting to present the Aboriginal Enhanced Agreement to our parents.
If elected, I would be committed to becoming more effective and accountable to those students who are currently not successful at school and fulfilling the goals set out in this contract. I would advocate for improved communication from school to home and look at the faces (and individual needs) rather than just the numbers. We need to have the agreement a living document and not one to put up on the shelf to be forgotten.