Completion rates for indigenous students in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district continue trending up as an all-time high 69.2 per cent graduated in 2018-19.
The previous record saw 63.9 per cent of aboriginal students receiving Dogwood diplomas in 2013-14 and while 52.1 per cent graduated in 2016-17, that rose to 62.5 per cent in 2017-18, according to a staff presentation to trustees at a school board meeting Wednesday. Ted Cadwallader, Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools district principal of aboriginal education, said indigenous grad rates have been measured since mid-1990 and the focus has been on early learning, early literacy skills and bringing indigenous content and culture into classrooms over the last 10 years. It has been a team effort, he said.
“It’s also the heavy lifting that’s gone on in indigenous communities as well, to focus on improving educational results,” said Cadwallader. “So it’s not been the school district alone. It’s been the result of some of the strategies that we’ve put together over the last decade. Some of the hard work that many people have done to improve life chances for kids, but also across our community. There’s just a lot more attention, I think, to how we can contribute to improving results for indigenous students in particular.”
According to the B.C. Ministry of Education, the non-indigenous student grad rate in the school district was 76 per cent. With the district partnering with Snuneymuxw First Nation on the Qwam Qwum Stuwixwulh indigenous language immersion school, Cadwallader said it could lead to eventual parity.
“Specific to indigenous student success, we think that partially by paying attention to where they’re at in their learning, at every single grade – knowing who each individual student is, asking questions about what it is that we’re doing for them and then trying to do better for them at every single stage along the way – is what’s going to lead us to increased success,” Cadwallader said.
The relationship between Snuneymuxw and the school district, of which Qwam Qwum is a part, in and of itself is going to help the district be more successful, said Cadwallader.
“I think that our attempts and our successes in building relationships with indigenous peoples … is going to serve us well because the more adults that you have wrapped around students, the better likelihood is that they’re going to be successful and that’s what were trying to do as a system, but also as individuals,” said Cadwallader.
Chris Beaton, Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre executive director, said achieving a record graduation is “amazing” and he lauded the district and teachers for their work. However, more needs to be done to achieve parity, as there was still a third who didn’t graduate, he said.
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New B.C. curriculum, which incorporates aboriginal perspectives, is being implemented and in Beaton’s opinion, the district needs to continue pushing the curriculum and the flexibility it provides. In addition, more resources should be provided to teachers to fully deliver the curriculum, he said.
“I think those are some of the rewards that we’re seeing, is when the new B.C. curriculum is being implemented and our indigenous students see themselves in that curriculum in the way it’s delivered, we see success rates going up,” said Beaton. “I think we just need to continue doing the same.”
A total of 112 indigenous students graduated in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district in 2018-19, according to the ministry, and overall, there were 2,587 indigenous students.