View From SD73: How equity assists Aboriginal students’ success

Part of removing barriers is enabling students to see their culture reflected in their schools.

School District 73 provides a public education to more than 15,000 students, of whom about 2,800 are of Aboriginal ancestry in the territories of seven bands, or First Nations: Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, Skeetchestn Indian Band, Whispering Pines/Clinton (Pellt’iq’t First Nation), Simpcw First Nation, Neskonlith Indian Band, Adams Lake Indian Band and Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band.

The 2020 Aboriginal Education Report details what the Kamloops-Thompson School District is doing to meet the goals set out in our strategic priorities, along with those outlined in the fourth Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement (2016–2022).

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A highlight of the report is the rise in the district of the Aboriginal six-year completion rate, from 78 per cent in 2017–2018 to 84 per cent in 2018–2019.

Compared to provincial five-year completion rates showing a 23 per cent gap between Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal students, in SD73, this gap is nine per cent. When comparing the six-year completion rates, our Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal students show an 18 per cent and a five per cent gap.

It’s clear we are doing significantly better than most other districts in the province, but there is more to be done.

As a district, we have not reached parity or equity for Aboriginal learners. Our goal is to completely close this gap.

The Ministry of Education’s Equity Project is now in its third year and it is focused on bringing equity and parity in education to Aboriginal Learners across B.C.

SD73 is starting to recognize the barriers for Aboriginal learners, and better understand what needs to be done to address them to create equity. For example, while Aboriginal people are over-represented in low socio-economic status (SES) statistics, and low SES is a prime indicator for low outcomes for students, it is incorrect to assume this is why the gap for Aboriginal students exists.

According to Mike Bowden, SD73’s district principal for Aboriginal education, the research shows that even without SES as a factor, Aboriginal populations continue to struggle with equity in the education system as compared to non-Aboriginal students.

The assumption is that giving people equal treatment means everyone benefits from the same supports. In an equitable system, existing barriers are addressed by giving people the support they need. Once barriers are removed and the causes of inequity are addressed and everyone has equity, we will be able to achieve parity.

Part of removing barriers is enabling students to see their culture reflected in their schools.

This is why accommodation of Aboriginal culture and identity is regarded as a core responsibility of our schools rather than as a special project to be undertaken after other obligations are met.

As summarized in the 1996 Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, educational institutions have a pivotal role in transforming the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and Canadian society.

Through the commitment of all educators, connections made with parents and community members continue to improve. These connections, in turn, are instrumental in improving the success and the personal well-being of all district students.

Through the educational experience, Aboriginal learners not only receive a graduation certificate, they also become resilient and engaged citizens with positive life outcomes. It means learners can succeed personally and academically, regardless of background, identity or personal circumstances.

Linking student achievement to equity, inclusion and diversity promotes learner well-being, engagement and school connectedness, and results in the creation of educated citizens.

Equity, inclusion and diversity are central to the district’s vision — to be a dynamic school district, we remain committed to achieving success for all students through equity and excellence.

Diane Jules is a School District 73 trustee. SD73 columns appear monthly in KTW during the school year. Jules can be reached via email at djules@sd73.bc.ca.

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