Vancouver school board trustees ponder aboriginal mini school

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.



Joe Lane

Jan 20, 2011 at 4:42pm

Here in Adelaide, South Australia, there has been an Indigenous school, Kaurna Plains, since 1985, set up on the rationale that Indigenous students would learn better and progress further if they had their own school. But while about 20 % of Indigenous students go on to eventually graduate from university, so far few if any of the students from this school have done so. I urge proponents to check out the School before taking Indigenous students up yet another cul-de-sac.
In Australia, one in every nine Indigenous adults is a university graduate, 26,000 at the end of last year. Enrolments are at record levels. The vast majority of students and graduates have been to standard, mainstream schools, with mainstream curricula. So is there any real need for separate schools ? Wouldn't this be simply a re-hash of past segregationist policies ?

Cat Thunder

Jan 21, 2011 at 2:09am

Can you share with me the email contacts and the events that I can forward to my friends that would be interested.Update me the events and let us know.>>>----------------------------------->>

Wawmeesh G. Hamilton

Jan 21, 2011 at 11:47am

An aboriginal magnet school isn't without precedent. But deftly handling the number of diverse aboriginal cultures, and better public engagement will make or break the idea.
Schools founded by and for other cultures have operated in Vancouver for decades.
Vancouver is home to Jewish, Sihk and Francophone schools, all of which graduates a number of students proportional to mainstream schools. Students don't fail because of the cultures they come from, but instead succeed because of them.
The linchpin in the creation or downfall of an aboriginal magnet school however could be its foundation of aboriginal culture and tradition.
Aboriginal people are as culturally diverse as any other peoples. Squamish and Musquem culture and language for instance is different from Nisga’a and Gitksan cultures, which ares different from Nuuchahnulth culture and so on. And this doesn't include cultures that come from across the country. It would be ironic that such a school could fail because of the very cultures they tried to build on.
Engaging urban aboriginal families with children in the school system in a dialogue about a possible option is a good start by the school board
But it's puzzling that one of its public engagement forums is being held at Point Grey Secondary, which isn’t known to be a hotbed of aborignal activity.
According to the last census, the area within the boarders of Main Street and Hastings, and Boundary Road to Main Street houses the densest population of aboriginal people in B.C.
Holding a session at Templeton Secondary is a good approach, but holding more sessions in neighbourhoods throughout the area would have been a better one.
Lastly, much of the news about aboriginal education issues revolves around course completion and graduation rates'. Reporting on these issues generates ideas to improve the system and holds officials in the system accountable.
But little is written about the aboriginal students who do graduate on time and who do succeed.
They're doing something right in school and out of it too.
Maybe the engagement process should have started with them.

John Paul

Jan 21, 2011 at 1:46pm

Awecome move by the Vanouver School Board. First Nations students cannot participate in current "DIVERSITY" programs in any school district because the teachers simply don't care. The problem is not only in Vancouver. In School District 62, which Port Renfrew Elementary School is part of, we have the same problem. The school district conveyor-belts Pacheedaht students by passing them to a higher grade when they cannot even read properly. Trudeau called aboriginals "INDIAN PROBLEMS" and from this perspective he was right. It takes humility to admit that the system is not working fort Aboriginal kids! God bless the Vancouver School Board!

Salty One

Jan 21, 2011 at 6:34pm

Its a good idea on paper but I have my doubts that it will become a reality. For starters, aboriginal people need to show up at these public forums. If its anything like I've seen in the past then the crowds will be sparse. People just dont go out to these things. Online forums come to mind though. And keep it real. Ed John, Shawn Atleo, Stewart Phillip and the rest of the usual talking heads can stay out of it. Engage the real people who live there day to day. And how will the school be run? Is the Vancouver School Board going to let a blue ribbon aboriginal board of directors run the place? If so then the same thing will happen to it that happened to UNN, friendship centre, Mamele childcare agency, and housing society. The 100 or so horror stories all revolve around the theme of little groups forming that have their own agendas. Theres a power struggle and the next thing you know there is nothing left. Thats the hard truth of it. I really hope for the best, but I have seen this a thousand times. Its aboriginal people themselves who ultimately undo their own good things.


Jan 26, 2011 at 9:48am

Its always been a dream to see this happen in the URBAN- being that I have always been living in the URBAN Society.

I want to be part of this proposal, and I would like contacts- so I can be part of our community, I have been here since 1998, I was already part of a community, but when I came here I had to work hard to prove I was a working class person trying to live like a normal HUMAN BEING: as a mother and a FIRST NATIOINS woman, I always had to prove my way, and this only happened in my twenties, before that time, I was passive and always kept quiet, no one heard the needs or wants. in the system it wasnt important enough to hear and to this day: as one person said " the system" only cares for the 90 percent who do fly through their educated lives and the other 10 are stuck tossed in "alternative lives".. I WANT IN!!! give me email to whom I can be part of this propsal.


Ashley MacDonald

Jan 28, 2011 at 3:43pm


I'm a journalism student who is focusing on the topic of aborginal mini-schools and I would love to talk to you. Please let me know if you are interested in an interview. You can reach me at