Aboriginal Spaces: A welcoming environment for Aboriginal learners

Salmon Arm Secondary School (SAS) graduate Iesha Johnny and SD83 District Principal Aboriginal Education Irene LaBoucane

Salmon Arm Secondary School (SAS) graduate Iesha Johnny and SD83 District Principal Aboriginal Education Irene LaBoucane

By Alice Hucul, Communications
SD83 (North Okanagan-Shuswap)

A safe, welcoming room which enhances Aboriginal learners’ sense of belonging in schools is just one of the reasons why Board Chair Bobbi Johnson of the SD83 (North Okanagan-Shuswap) put forward a motion that there should be a designated space for an Aboriginal Education room within all new schools built in BC. Johnson initiated a motion with the Aboriginal Education Committee for the BC School Trustees Association in February, who passed it. The committee took the motion to the BCSTA AGM in April, where trustees passed it and are now recommending it for consideration to the Ministry of Education.

But why is this necessary?

“When I go into the Aboriginal education rooms in our district I see some of our most vulnerable students being supported. They are a great place of learning. The people that staff the rooms are doing wonderful thing to help kids,” said Johnson.

Iesha Johnny, who graduated from Salmon Arm Secondary School (SAS) in June, was a frequent user of the Ab- original Education room at SAS. “It was a quiet place to work and study,” she said.

Johnny commented that last year she also was able to use the room to come in and build a 3D model of a day care for her Human Services 12 course. Also, she said, if anyone was not feeling well or down they could come to the room and cuddle “Ollie” a stuffed, scented elephant.

SD83 District Principal Aboriginal Education Irene LaBoucane, who is just completing two years of research on Aboriginal student success explains that, generally speaking and despite steps to address it, Aboriginal students do not always find schools to be welcoming environments that reflect who they are as Aboriginal learners.

“Aboriginal Education rooms provide students a safe and welcoming place to gather, which enhances their sense of belonging in public schools,” explains LaBoucane. “These rooms are a venue for Aboriginal students to access academic and socio-economic support as well as cultural opportunities which reflect the Aboriginal world views of students. Aboriginal staff ensure programs and services are provided to Aboriginal learners in order to increase their overall achievement.”

In other words, it’s a place to focus on building a culture of belonging and respect in the school, while meeting emotional and learning needs.

She added that it is important to note that Aboriginal Education rooms are not exclusive to Aboriginal learners, but provide a space where Aboriginal students can bring their friends and share their pride and their culture.

Stepping beyond students’ needs, Aboriginal Education rooms also provide parents and community a place they can call their own.

LaBoucane’s research, which included doing interviews of Aboriginal students who recently graduated with a Dogwood and asking them what supports helped them successfully navigate the school system, shows that the Aboriginal education room and support worker were often cited as being key supports.

Based on the provincial six-year completion rates (2013/14) there continues to be a substantial achievement gap of 24 per cent between Aboriginal and the non-aboriginal students. This in itself speaks to the ongoing support needs of Aboriginal students which are addressed within Aboriginal Education rooms within schools.

Research findings, including that done by Fulford (2007) and Bell (2004), indicate the importance of schools proving a secure and welcoming climate for Aboriginal students as a means of ensuring success for Aboriginal learners.

“It has been said, that what is good for Aboriginal learners is good for all students, however, what is good for all learners does not necessarily benefit Aboriginal students. Therefore, the need for Aboriginal Education rooms address the “why” of creating a safe and welcoming environment where Aboriginal learners can access academic, social, cultural support,” says LaBoucane.

For more information about this story, you may contact Alice Hucul at ahucul@sd83.bc.ca.


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