Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
February 19, 2001
School district to launch native education project
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — Aboriginal students have a hard time adapting to city schools, a situation that often translates into low academic achievement, a high dropout rate and low self-esteem.
Statistics show aboriginal students are struggling in the school system. Their high school graduation rate is about 52 per cent in Alberta compared to 72 per cent for non-aboriginal students.
What makes it even harder for aboriginal students is that the curriculum doesn't reflect their cultural heritage.
That's all about to change as Edmonton Catholic Schools plans to address the problem with the help of a $1.6 million grant from Alberta Learning.
The purpose of the ambitious project is to help aboriginal students achieve higher success, said Bob Steele, division principal in aboriginal education.
"What we are trying to do is work on ways that all our schools can be more effective in working with aboriginal students."
The two-year pilot project and research study, beginning in September, will find ways to increase academic achievement among aboriginal students and lower their almost 50 per cent high school dropout rate, explained native education consultant Louise Breland.
"The idea is to make schools more responsive to the needs of aboriginal students."
A study conducted last year shows aboriginal parents and students want a better kindergarten to Grade 12 school program but they don't necessarily want a segregated school, noted Steele.
"About 90 per cent of aboriginal parents and students want to be able to go to their neighbourhood school with their friends and do well."
Six Edmonton Catholic schools, including elementary, junior high and high schools, will be picked for the project from about 15 that have expressed interest in participating. The final cut will be made in mid-March.
Grant money will be used to train teachers and staff in cultural awareness so they become more sensitive to aboriginal students' needs and make them feel more welcome in the schools.
Liaison workers will be hired to work closely with families and increase their involvement in the school life. "Parents want to feel that they can come to school and feel welcomed and wanted there too," Steele said.
Libraries will carry books by aboriginal authors and all classes will include aboriginal culture so students can see themselves reflected in the curriculum.
"For me, this is very much an issue of social justice and it's about time we had the financial support to tackle it," Breland said.
Steele said the project's research study component will be shared with schools across Alberta.
"I guess what the research will do is tell us what works and what doesn't when it comes to having this group of students come to school and do well and feel good about it."
There are about 1,500 aboriginal students in the Edmonton Catholic school system.
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