Students at public schools in Nanaimo and Ladysmith achieved the highest graduation rate in the school district’s history.
According to numbers from the B.C. of Ministry of Education, 80.3 per cent of aboriginal students and 88.7 per cent of all students (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous) completed high school in 2020-21, both all-time highs for the school district.
Charlene McKay, school board chairperson and former district parent advisory council president, told the News Bulletin she has seen significant growth in the aboriginal education department in her time with the district, with the added support allowing staff to connect with children. This has “driven a lot of these changes,” she said.
“We’re really paying attention to where kids are, how they’re performing academically, but also how [they are] feeling and making sure that we have adults in the building connecting with these kids to check in on them,” said McKay. “If someone’s not coming to school, we want to know why. We want to know how we can help them. Sometimes it’s those adult connections that are really keeping kinds engaged, so that we can keep them in school and heading towards [graduation].”
The district made modifications in the past two school years to account for COVID-19, with a quarterly system used last year, along with increased distance learning enrolment. McKay said there isn’t enough information to determine whether graduation was affected, but it is a topic that will be broached at a future meeting.
“I think outreach was a huge component, if I had to hazard a guess,” said McKay. “Our outreach teams made a big difference and we connected with kids through the summer this year, too. We had them on field trips, we had them in learning, catching up on course work that they maybe didn’t finish at the end of term and they had the opportunity to keep their learning route going.”
Natasha Bob, Snaw-Naw-As band councillor with the education portfolio and former school trustee, said she is pleased with the school district’s efforts. She noted, however, that educational success needs to be balanced with other opportunities for sports and recreation and hands-on learning.
“Much of our First Nations students are experiential learners and sometimes broadening their experiences to inspire them to want to make an impact on our local community, I feel that’s very important,” said Bob. “Social learning is very important as well, creating opportunities for socialization and integration into the community off the reserve. Gaining work experience and all of those sorts of things, all of the things we want for all of our students, we want our First Nations students to have the same opportunities.”
Provincewide graduation rates for Indigenous students have risen over the years, from 53.6 per cent a decade ago, according to an e-mail from the B.C. Ministry of Education, to 71.1 per cent in 2019-20 and 72.5 per cent in 2020-21.
“While the six-year completion rate for Indigenous public students is the highest it has ever been, we know there is much more collaborative work to do in support of Indigenous students,” the ministry said.
The ministry pointed to “legislative changes” introduced last month that will allow the province “to provide operational support for a new certification and regulation process, under the direction of participating First Nations,” as one of the measures it has implemented.
The numbers from 2020-21 surpass what were previously the district’s best grad rates – a 69.2 per cent Indigenous grad rate in 2018-19 and an overall grad rate of 83.8 per cent in 2019-20.