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Aboriginal graduation rates rise in North Van school district
The North Vancouver School District is ahead of the provincial curve when it comes to aboriginal graduation rates, but, according to numbers in a recent superintendent’s report on academic achievement, still needs to work on helping those students graduate high school within six years.
Last June, 28 out of 30 NVSD aboriginal students (93 per cent) received their Dogwood diploma — which increased the graduation rate by 13 per cent from the previous school year.
That’s compared to the provincial numbers for aboriginal students who received a Dogwood diploma last year — 3,081 out of 6,026 students, or 51 per cent.
However, the six-year high school completion rate for aboriginal students (those who graduate within six years of starting Grade 8) has decreased in North Van — going from 61 per cent in 2012 to 50 per cent this year.
That said, the NVSD has made significant inroads in aboriginal education in the past decade. In the year 2000, the six-year graduation rate was a dismal 18 per cent.
“We are making better results, but we still have a long way to go,” said NVSD aboriginal education administrator Tsnomot “Brad” Baker.
When comparing the statistics, it’s important to take into consideration the aboriginal student cohort in North Van is relatively small in number, notes Baker.
In the entire school district, out of 15,125 total students, 650 are of aboriginal ancestry.
After signing a provincial Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement two years ago, NVSD educators have set goals to improve aboriginal academic success rates. Creating a sense of belonging and presence for aboriginal students is one of the main objectives.
“I think some of it has changed, where our programs we offer our students have more direct service to our aboriginal students,” said Baker.
He gives the example of how two novels, Monkey Beach and Three Day Road, both penned by Canadian aboriginal authors, have been added to the English syllabus.
“We want our aboriginal students to see themselves in the curriculum, to open the book and see an aboriginal person,” said Baker.
He is hoping those curriculum changes will go a long way in improving Grade 10 literacy rates for aboriginal students, which is an area of particular concern for NVSD educators.
The 2013 target was to get 60 per cent of aboriginal students to a C-plus standing or better in English 10. The results remain worrisome, as the 2011 baseline of 46 per cent has been followed up with decreased English 10 results in the past two years, 33 and 35 per cent, respectively.
“The literacy component is so key for us because that lays the foundation for future success,” said Baker.
Teachers are trying to create a tangible connection to First Nations culture by inviting Squamish Nation and Tsleil-Waututh members to come into the classroom and show the students some authentic resources.
“Students can see and hear the rich culture of our community,” said Baker.
North Vancouver was chosen this year to pilot proposed changes to the B.C. education curriculum that would incorporate aboriginal pedagogy in every core subject.
At the same time, teachers are learning about local First Nations history, as well. The recent Truth and Reconciliation events, which shed a light on the troublesome residential school era, has helped teachers have a better understanding of those painful experiences.
Throughout the province, First Nations families, recalling that history, still struggle with their perception of the education system, suggests Baker.
“And that’s where I believe the shared history needs to be recognized,” he says. “It’s a reality for our families, it cannot be brushed off that it happened.”
Baker, who was raised on the Squamish Nation’s Eslha7a’n reserve, knows first-hand of the painful history. His own dad attended a local residential school. Still, says Baker, his dad supported him going to school and becoming a teacher because he saw the value in education.
Despite a greater stigma attached to aboriginal students when he was in school over 20 years now, Baker said he managed to stay on track and achieve good grades.
“I wanted to do proud for my dad, to see there was a good side to school,” says Baker. “Obviously, it will never change the history.”