New learning centre focused on including aboriginal culture

NANAIMO – The Nanaimo Learning Centre, an aboriginal-focused and one-classroom school, opened for the first time last week.

The first students of Nanaimo’s new aboriginal-focused public school walked through the doors Sept. 22.

Fourteen pupils were in class for the debut of the new one-room Nanaimo Learning Centre, considered the first of its kind in the province.

“We are very excited,” said Chris Beaton, executive director of the Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre, which coordinated the school and its services. “I mean we have been talking about this for some time, we’ve been planning for it for some time and yeah, we are eager to get started … in working with our families.”

The centre, run through the Vancouver Island West School District at the Boys and Girls Club location on Fifth Street, will follow the B.C. curriculum, but aims to see a focus on outdoor and culture-based education for children in kindergarten through Grade 3. There will also be wrap-around services with the help of community partners, including hot lunches, visits from Metis elders and before-and-after school childcare.

“We are going to walk in both worlds, where we make sure we have the kids rooted in their tradition, but also making sure they’re ready for the challenges they are going to face while they are going through our school system,” said Lawrence Tarasoff, superintendent of Vancouver Island West School District, adding the hope is to give students a strong grounding.

An estimated 70 per cent of children in the school are aboriginal, but the centre is open to all children and will reflect the range of cultural diversity.

“Everything we are bringing into the classroom has a cultural component,” said Beaton, who points out that it’s not about children learning things differently, it’s the way their learning environment is supported.

The school was proposed by the Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre last year and has included partnerships with the Mid Island Metis Nation and the Boys and Girls Club of Central Vancouver Island.

When the idea was proposed, Vancouver Island West School District, which covers Zeballos, Tahsis, Kyuquot and Gold River in the North Island, saw the centre as a chance to see the effect of wrap-around services on students and have student teachers experience aboriginal learning, according to Tarasoff.

There are 20 spaces available at the school, where students are supported by a vice-principal and cultural worker.

The school will host a lunch and open house on Wednesday (Oct. 1), from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.