Goldstream Gazette special feature

Aboriginal traditions help teach English to Belmont high school students

Sometimes there isn’t room for Shakespeare in a high school English class.

  • Jun. 22, 2012 7:00 a.m.

Sometimes there isn’t room for Shakespeare in a high school English class.

This week next year, select students in Grade 10 and 11 at Belmont secondary school will be the first class to write exams for a new course called English First Peoples, which will be offered for the first time at the school starting in the second semester.

The classes are equivalent to the standard English courses used as prerequisite for university.

“It’s radically new,” said vice principal Dick Juhasz adding the school hopes to grow interest in the program and offer it at the Grade 12 level.

The course is the latest effort of the Sooke School District to enhance the education of First Nations students and keep the aboriginal grad rate among the highest in the province.

“These kids need to know their own culture is much richer than the European culture that they have no linkage to,” Juhasz said. “School is designed to help kids fit into society and to understand themselves.”

The English First Peoples course is about more than studying books written by native authors. Students will also study oral traditions, colonialism and cultural renewal.

“We have diverse learning environments, different choices and a different way of learning,” said Kathleen King-Hunt, SD 62 aboriginal education principal.

While students taking standard English courses study classic literature written by famous authors such as George Orwell and Ernest Hemmingway, students in the First Peoples course will reading the works of iconic aboriginal authors including Thomson Highway and Joseph Boyden.

“They will be reading Three Day Road (by Boyden) and it’s such a page turner. The kids pick these books up and they don’t put them down,” King-Hunt said. “The students read it so much the pages were getting frayed at the edges.”

This course is geared to both native and non-native students, who learn about common characters, such as tricksters, and study symbolism, including dreams and visions and poetry.

“We want to promote this program, it’s a rigorous program available to all students,” King-Hunt said.

“The books they will read are equivalent content and have the same big ideas as Shakespeare.”

While Belmont is just adding the courses to its roster, similar courses are being added to curriculum across the country and even around the world in places such as Australia.

Belmont was hoping to start offering the course during the 2011-2012 school year, but when not enough kids enrolled the launch of the new classes was held back.

This will be the first time English First People’s will be offered at Belmont, though the school has been offering a Grade 12 First Nations social studies class for about five years (see story above).

“It’s very successful, we have two loaded classes,” Juhasz said, explaining the course is popular with both native and non-native students.

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