Agreement Solidifies Ties Between Valley Schools and First Nations

By Christina Martens

May 16 will be a historic day for the Cowichan Valley School District and the area’s Aboriginal population. During a presentation to teachers and teacher’s aides at the Cowichan Community Centre Wednesday, members of the Hwulmuhw Mustimhuw (HM) Education Advisory Committee (HMEAC) unveiled the aboriginal education improvement agreement framework.

“This agreement is the turning point in that it formalizes the joint communication between the District and the Aboriginal community,” said Cowichan District Teachers Association (CDTA) representative Jeanne Berryman.

Made up of representatives of the School District, First Nations and Metis Nation representatives, the committee was formed to find out how Aboriginal students were functioning in District schools. Formed in the fall of 2000, assessments and surveys were done in January and February, which involved speaking with teachers, teacher’s aides, students, staff, parents, elders and First Nations and Metis representatives. Eighteen schools were selected from the District with more than 400 students participating. Of those, 226 were Aboriginal students.

“The dominant message was that parents wanted their kids to graduate with an education and a knowledge of their culture,” said Glenn Goring, one of the two-person data collection team.

Goring noted that public schools are unable to serve the needs of Aboriginal students unless multicultural schools are developed and that issues related to racism, cultural identity and low parent participation are addressed.

“The importance of cultural identity has been a recurring theme,” said Goring.

Another recurring theme is the data indicating that as Aboriginal students progress through the grades, the numbers start dropping off until 68 per cent of the Aboriginal students enrolled in Grade 11 are not enrolled in Grade 12. That’s compared with 26 per cent for non-Aboriginal students. The Improvement Agreement Framework is designed to narrow the gap in performance between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students by two per cent while honouring and supporting the cultures and languages of the Aboriginal people whose territories are served by School District No. 79.

“Two per cent is reasonable and attainable and has been used by other districts with Improvement Agreements,” said Aboriginal education representative Eric McMahon. “Our challenge will be to measure this target.”

The goals of the five-year agreement are to increase success rates, developing the skills foundation in Grades 4, 7 and 10, increasing attendance rates, using measures to implement technology,language and culture studies in the schools. “We tried to keep the goals as narrow as possible so we could tack them,” said data collector Ted Cadwallader.

The plan will develop targets that are reasonable, attainable, represent meaningful progress and be “reassessed annually to determine at what rate did we hit the target,” said McMahon.

Berryman assured teachers that current programs will stay intact, unless future programs and opportunities present themselves. What will change, is the type of support front-line workers will receive.

“The agreement is a turning point in that in formalizes the joint connection between the district and the Aboriginal community. The signing of this agreement creates a pathway for us to move forward.”