Aboriginal high school completion rates are on the rise in Nanaimo.
Just over 52 per cent of the school district’s aboriginal students graduated last year, compared with 43.1 per cent in 2009. The completion rate for aboriginal students provincewide reached 53.7 per cent, up from 50.4 per cent in 2009-10.
Stella Bates, district principal of aboriginal education, said the improved rates could have a lot to do with the district’s focus in recent years on improving achievement levels for First Nations students, who have historically lagged behind the student body as a whole.
The district, which has more than 2,000 First Nations students, has had an aboriginal education enhancement agreement in place since 2001 – the third five-year agreement will be signed shortly – and teams of aboriginal educators in each school.
“I think that schools just generally are more aware and maybe just going that extra little bit for the kids,” said Bates.
She said every secondary school has at least one aboriginal teacher, tutor and education assistant and there are aboriginal education assistants in elementary schools. These educators do cultural and social work as well as providing academic support.
“They show the possibilities,” said Bates. “They understand the culture, they come from the same environments and they often are related or know the families. They can also serve as cultural envoys between the two worlds.”
The district has also developed a program that reaches out to First Nations students who have left the system before graduating. This program is run out of different communities, such as Chemainus First Nation, downtown Nanaimo and Snaw-naw-as (Nanoose) First Nation.
“They’ve made a difference for sure,” said Bates. “Every little bit helps. We see a lot more aboriginal students completing secondary school in six years and many more finish in seven or eight.”
This year’s completion rates for aboriginal students in Nanaimo are the highest since the 2005-06 school year, when 53.5 per cent graduated within six years.