First Nations students in Chilliwack make up 15 per cent of the student population. In the 2009/10 school year

Partnership to improve aboriginal graduation rates

Aboriginal adults in Chilliwack have an opportunity to obtain their high school graduation through native culture.

Aboriginal adults have an opportunity to obtain their high school graduation through native culture.

Chilliwack school district and Stó:lo Education Centre have partnered again to provide a 10-month long high school completion program at Coqualeetza where students will be credited for work hours, parenting responsibilities, longhouse activities, and more.

The aboriginal adult high school completion program is a once-a-week program for aboriginal adults that teaches core subjects including English, math, science, and BC First Nations through a cultural eye.

“It’s not necessarily about going through each chapter of a textbook and memorizing things, or being able to write them on a test,” said teacher Bryan Stephenson. “It’s about incorporating aboriginal concepts, and being able to tell your story, and learn from those experiences. It’s about the wisdom of emotions and personal experience.”

First Nations students in Chilliwack make up 15 per cent of the student population. In the 2009/10 school year, just 45.4 per cent who started Grade 8 in the district six years prior graduated.

This program aims to improve those numbers.

Stephenson, who is Métis, said this completion program is different from others in that it focuses on the needs and values of native people, and incorporates their culture into the lessons.

The program conducts regular speaking circles for students to share their feelings and desires towards education. It embodies native history into English and social studies lessons. For science, it links herbs and medicines used for centuries on First Nation land that are also used in common pharmaceuticals.

“I’ve seen the pride and happiness of people graduating who never thought they could graduate and never would have without this program,” said Stephenson. “It uses their knowledge of where they come from.”

The program is designed for native adults 19 years or older, but will also accept 17- and 18-year-olds who have been out of school for one academic year.

Prior to starting, student skills will be assessed, career goals will be discussed, and past experiences in areas of work training, volunteering, cultural activities, exercise, sports and hobbies will be put towards academic credits.

Individual plans will be devised for each student.

“If students are serious about this and are willing to attend just one day a  week … they can graduate in 10 months,” said Stephenson.

“The major component of the aboriginal adult high school completion program is to tailor the academics to fit the unique needs of each adult.”

The program runs on Thursdays from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. from September to June.

An information potluck dinner is being held on Thursday, Sept. 15 at the Stó:lo Education Centre in Building 18 starting at 5:30 p.m.

For more information contact Bryan Stephenson at 604-823-0229 or by email at yarrow1@telus.net.

kbartel@theprogress.com

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