It was a celebration like no other, that’s for sure, and there wasn’t a frown to be found in the crowd.
Displays were set up throughout the gymnasium highlighting the work of First Nations students in our community, games were played, songs were sung and drums echoed in the halls of L’École John Stubbs in Colwood last week as the Aboriginal Education program of School District 62 (SD62) hosted the second of their three major events each year in recognition of what they’re doing to ensure the success of First Nations students in the region.
The first of these events is the Family Fall Gathering, where families come to wish success upon the students for the coming year.
The second is the Celebration of Aboriginal Student Success, held each February to display and celebrate the work done by First Nations students in the district up to that point in the year.
“It’s a real opportunity for students, especially at the middle school level, to have some leadership opportunities,” says Kathleen King-Hunt, district principal for aboriginal education, noting the students themselves are involved in the planning and execution of putting the event on.
“They really play an important role in articulating what’s important to have at an event like this, and deciding what we need to be teaching our families as we go through the night.”
It’s also important for their development as young people in our community and within our education system, she says.
“For the students, it’s a really positive outlet and it really lets their school see them in a different light – in a leadership, interactive and experiential role – and they bring a lot back to the school,” she says, referring to renewed energy and experience in leadership capacities.
Jim Cambridge, school superintendent of SD62, says back when he started in education more than 30 years ago, there was a rumour that the high school hadn’t graduated an aboriginal student in over a decade.
“I don’t know if that was true or not,” he says, “but it was really disturbing to hear that. It wasn’t until decades later that we actually put some effort into recognizing what was significant and what was important about aboriginal ways of learning, and how when we applied those to a particular population, not only did those students benefit, but all students benefitted.”
He says the situation is much better now, and it’s gaining even more traction as we move forward as a community with this new understanding.
“What I’ve seen over the last 10 years is a huge, huge growth in our school district, where we’ve gone from having very poor results for First Nations learners to having very good results, and can even have better results going forward. It’s not that the work is done, and it’s not that it’s time to congratulate ourselves, but it is a time to congratulate our learners.”
The district has come to understand over time that aboriginal student success is tied closely to the level of support and encouragement they receive from their families, Cambridge says. The investment of those families in the learners, and events like the Celebration of Aboriginal Student Success, allow the families of the students to join in that support on another level.
The third major annual event is their graduation celebration held at Camosun College, at the Na’tsa’maht Gathering Place, the outdoor Coast Salish Hat-shaped amphitheatre, where students, families and educators go to celebrate graduates’ achievements and promote the importance of post-secondary education.
“We provide a fully-First-Nations ceremony that is very different from a traditional grad ceremony, says King-Hunt, “and it’s a recognition of their journey from K to 12, honouring their achievements and blessing their future endeavours into post secondary, or whatever it is they’re going to go off to do.”
Check out sd62.bc.ca/programs for more information on the SD62 Aboriginal Education program, their events or to find ways to get involved.