Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
June 25, 2001
Native students honoured
Students succeed after leaving 'attitude problems' behind
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — At one point in their lives, perhaps most of them perceived themselves as losers. Their self-esteem shattered by family violence, prejudice and poverty, they had either dropped out or done poorly in school.
But then they made the right move and today they are winners in their own eyes and in the eyes of the community.
Twenty-five native students from Edmonton Catholic Schools stood proudly on the podium of the University of Alberta's Faculty Club June 14 to receive this year's most-improved awards from the Wahkotowin Student Society.
Accompanied by teachers, counsellors, friends and family members, the students were recognized for "trying hard in school to better themselves and to be role models for other students," said Eva Bereti, an elder in the Wahkotowin Society.
Lt.-Gov. Lois Hole praised the students for their achievements and invited them to continue "to pursue their own dreams whatever they might be."
School representatives offered glimpses of each student, who then were awarded certificates of achievement.
Brett Blackwood, 15, had to overcome a lot of difficult situations to be able to graduate from Grade 9 at St. Nicholas School. He has been away from his nuclear family for years and has had to overcome anger, frustration and a lack of self-esteem. "I have bad memories of the past," he said in an interview.
Blackwood attended other Catholic schools before he landed at St. Nicholas three years ago. His attendance was poor and so were his grades. He had trouble paying attention in class. "Before I came to St. Nicholas I was the school's goofball," he recalled. "(In class) I would never do what I was told."
But when he realized he was "going down and down" he decided to turn things around and went to St. Nicholas.
The school laid out a plan for him. He followed it and has improved his attendance, grades and overall personality.
"Brett has made a lot of improvement over the past three years," noted teacher Lawrence Allarie.
"He's shown a lot of improvement in attendance and in the way he deals with other people. He is achieving in every area."
Blackwood hopes to become "well known like the governor general." He plans to eventually study computer science at university.
Crystal Bonner, who just completed Grade 11 at Archbishop O'Leary High, has won the most improved student award twice in the past three years. The first time was in 1999, while a Grade 9 student at J.J. Bowlen School. At the time, her counsellor praised her for not letting cerebral palsy get in the way of her studies.
At the June 14 ceremony, O'Leary counsellor Sharon Caffaro said Bonner has managed to "persevere despite almost insurmountable obstacles."
The key to Bonner's resilience is "Crystal's continuing willingness to develop relationships," Caffaro said in an interview. "She has a very open and loving spirit and I am very proud of her and I am very proud of the fact that she trusts us enough to come to ask for help."
Asked about her career goals, Bonner went from "no idea" to expressing a desire to become a counsellor one day.
Student Desiree Heck was honoured for showing great improvement in a short period of time. The 14-year-old moved to St. Cecilia School from St. Kevin's in December and still managed to complete Grade 9 with excellent marks. She plans to begin high school at Archbishop O'Leary in the fall.
Heck said she left St. Kevin's because "I was having attitude problems there." She was having "problems" with other students and it became harder and harder for her to show for class.
"She's been with us a very short while but she has improved her standing considerably in all her core subjects," noted St. Cecilia's teacher Eunice Symak-Tobychuk. "She is more confident in her abilities and it's due to her hard work."
But Heck says it is also due to the fact St. Cecilia accepted her. "Things were made more interesting for me and I found the teachers enjoyable."
Heck now spends most of her spare time reading and volunteering in the community. Her goals are "to get my marks as high as I can to hopefully become either a police officer or a computer animator."
"I see a great future for her," said Symak-Tobychuk. "She is very hard-working and persistent. She has her mind set, she has her goals set out for herself; she is very respectful to everyone no matter gender or race."
The Wahkotowin Society has been handing out recognition awards to aboriginal students for the past 13 years. Thirty were honoured last year.
"We want to make them feel good about themselves," explained Bereti. "Now they're going to go and do great things because we have made them feel good."
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