Tutors will target higher grad rates

NANAIMO – City's aboriginal centre is searching for 50 volunteer tutors and mentors to help aboriginal students reach their potential.

A new group of volunteers will help Nanaimo’s aboriginal students make the grade.

Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre has launched a volunteer recruitment effort, with aims of connecting more than 50 mentors and tutors with students struggling to reach their potential. It’s part of a new push to boost high school graduation rates.

According to the Nanaimo school district, 22 per cent fewer aboriginal students earned Dogwood diplomas last year compared to the general school population.  In 2011, 52 per cent of aboriginal students completed high school versus 69.6 per cent of students overall.

The not-for-profit wants to see graduate rates for aboriginal students bumped up to 100 per cent – and pairing students with after-school support is being seen as a key part of reaching the goal.

Research shows mentors benefit teens by giving them encouragement and help with homework, said the aboriginal centre’s executive director Chris Beaton, adding that 52 per cent of students are less likely to skip classes if they have a mentoring relationship.

“For a lot of our kids, they need that one-on-one support to know someone cares; that someone is watching their success and believes in their potential and supports them,” he said. “For some students that’s all it is going to take to push them forward and complete high school.”

The Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre was launched in June with a vision to help more students succeed in the education system. Aboriginal students are lagging behind their non-aboriginal counterparts and efforts to change graduation rates don’t seem to be improving the numbers fast enough, according to Beaton, whose organization is searching for solutions.

“I think the silver bullet is a puzzle, and it’s when we bring all those pieces together that we’ll really be able to achieve what we want,” he said. “Mentors and tutors are an important piece of that puzzle.”

The new pool of volunteers will be aimed at not only providing mentorship to teenagers several hours each month, but free tutoring to people in university struggling to afford academic aid.

Sherry McCarthy, aboriginal student representative for Vancouver Island University’s student union, said the budding resource is “awesome” and an initiative students success could depend on.

There are those who need help from tutors, but “tutors are not exactly very cheap,” said McCarthy, who pegs the average cost at $25 an hour.

If students are on academic probation, they are given one semester to correct their studies or face being “kicked out of school for a year and then it’s hard to get the kids to come back. It’s better to just keep them where they are at [and] this is something to help,” she said.

Tutors are needed for a wide variety of subjects, from physics and anthropology to English. To mentor a high school student or become a tutor contact the Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre at 250-753-6911 or e-mail cbeaton@nanaimoaboriginalcentre.ca.