Ministry looks to improve First Nations high school achievement
The Ministry of Education says B.C. schools are failing First Nations students and now it wants to improve graduation rates with a new learning agreement.
The Nicola-Similkameen School District 58 is trying to bring the area’s First Nations groups to a partnership that would include sharing ideas and goals in a new Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement.
“I’d like to say we have it tied up, but we don’t,” SD 58 Assistant Superintendent Steve McNiven said at the most recent district meeting in September. “We have the majority of the bands giving approval to sign that document and right now we are working with the other two bands to come to an agreement before the signing.”
Representatives from SD 58 and the Ministry, as well as First Nations leaders, are scheduled to sign the Enhancement Agreement at 5 p.m. on Oct. 10 at the Merritt Civic Centre — 1950 Mamette Ave.
Changes could include a stronger educational focus on Aboriginal Peoples’ cultures and languages.
The Ministry signed a Memorandum of Understanding with First Nations bands in 1999 that acknowledged Aboriginal students weren’t successful enough in school.
“British Columbia schools have not been successful in ensuring that aboriginal students receive a quality education, one that allows these students to succeed in a larger provincial economy while maintaining ties to their culture,” the Ministry stated.
That memorandum has led to the new Enhancement agreement, in the Ministry’s latest effort.
SD 58 already entered an enhancement agreement with First Nations in 2004, and Aboriginal student success has increased.
Between 2007 and 2011, the six-year completion rate among First Nations students in SD 58 has gone up from 42 per cent to 54 per cent. Non-Aboriginal students have increased from 68 per cent to 72 per cent in the same period.
Provincewide, Aboriginal Peoples’ six-year achievement has increased from 48 per cent to 54 per cent from 2007 to 2011. Non-aboriginal students remained static at 81 per cent during the same period.
Administration at SD 58 has set the target for 60 per cent transition rates this year for First Nations students. The five-year target is 70 per cent.
“I think that the district has really worked hard at focusing on aboriginal education,” SD 58 Superintendent Bob Peacock said. “There have been a number of initiatives taking place that relate to the Enhancement Agreement.”
He noted that First Nations six-year completion was 37 per cent in the school year after the first Enhancement Agreement was signed to 54 per cent in 2011, the most recent stat available. The original agreement expired in 2009.
“It’s actually really been in the last three years that First Nations achievement has gone up,” Peacock noted. “We had a mock audit a few years back and that really opened people’s eyes about what we need to do.”
He said the original agreement was more focused on data, while this agreement is more qualitative.
Since the original agreement, SD 58 has started the Aboriginal Academy, a 16 credit course at Merritt Secondary School that teaches about traditional First Nations customs.
This year, nearly 20 SD 58 educators are scheduled to participate in a course that teaches them about Aboriginal People’s culture.
In 2009, Early Development Instruments Research rated SD 58 students in the highest level of vulnerability in physical health and well-being. The criteria includes motor development, energy levels, school preparedness, washroom independence and established handedness.
Approximately 36 per cent of local students are vulnerable in at least one of these categories, the research states.
Three additional counsellors have been added in the district this year, with another position vacant. This puts the total number of counsellors in the district at six, compared to last year’s three.
The previous enhancement plan aimed to improve academic achievement, increase academic preparedness, improve grades seven to 12 transition rates and improve student self-worth.
Specifically, SD 58 added courses that focused on the Nlaka’pamux and Syilx culture and languages, as one of the many initiatives.
SD 58 noted research indicates that when students feel their culture is valued, their self-esteem will increase and they will become confident enough to learn.
The Enhancement Agreement is a community document and isn’t just focused on the school district.