The Vancouver school board is seeking public feedback on a proposal to create a new educational program with an aboriginal focus.
Public forums are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Monday (January 24) at Point Grey secondary school and 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday (January 25) at Templeton secondary school.
The forums are to be facilitated by Jo-ann Archibald, associate dean for indigenous education in the University of B.C.’s faculty of education.
Board chair Patti Bacchus stressed that the school district is keen to hear from First Nations community members during the consultations, which are expected to include talk about the possibility of an aboriginal-focused “mini school”.
The district has yet to publicly discuss any specifics about what the program could entail and how exactly it would have an aboriginal focus.
Bacchus acknowledged the district has been “somewhat vague”, explaining this has been intentional.
“One thing that we do know is that we need to get direction and leadership from aboriginal communities when we’re designing programs for aboriginal students,” Bacchus told the Straight by phone.
Lynda Gray, executive director of the Urban Native Youth Association, welcomed the move toward a new aboriginal-focused program but emphasized the importance of seeking feedback from First Nations.
“I applaud them for doing this, but unless they take seriously the input of the native community it’ll just be doomed for failure,” Gray told the Straight by phone.
Last June, trustees unanimously passed a motion to launch consultations on the idea of creating an aboriginal mini school, which could be up and running by September of this year. It would be established in connection with a reconfiguration of Britannia secondary and elementary into a K-12 school, according to the motion.
The recommendation was included in a June VSB staff report on school closures.
“This step will enable greater opportunities for multi-graded, multi-age programs, cross sharing and fewer transitions,” the report reads. “It will also enable a greater focus on providing strong educational support and interest for students within the proposed mini-school.”
Gray suggested there is already strong support for an aboriginal “magnet school”, explaining it is a type of school where “curriculum is based around a certain concept,” such as native culture.
“As far as the native community is concerned, we believe that one of the considerations should be an actual magnet school that’s based on First Nations culture and traditions, but is not necessarily just restricted to First Nations students,” she told the Straight.
Bacchus said what’s needed now is discussion on the details of an aboriginal-focused mini school, including the potential benefits, who would run it, what it would look like, and which age groups it would serve.
“We’re going into this very open-mindedly,” Bacchus said. “We may hear that it isn’t the direction we should be going,” she added. “This is a respectful dialogue that we hope will really inform and direct next steps to determine if it is in fact something we should be doing.”
There are around 2,000 aboriginal students in the Vancouver school district, representing about four percent of the student population.
According to the school board’s District Plan for Student Learning 2010/2011, data show aboriginal learners have “minimal academic success, low levels of participation and [a] low graduation rate” compared with nonaboriginal students.
Bacchus said the board is committed to finding ways to improve the success rates of aboriginal students.
“If there’s a way we can create an environment that is more supportive, more welcoming, that is more likely to keep students engaged in their learning and supported in their learning, then that’s what we’re hoping to find,” she said.