Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 3, 2004
Aboriginal students find hope in school program
Rainbow Spirit aims to help young natives complete high school
By BILL GLEN
"People are cheering for you and telling you to be strong."
- Haley Mann
The group was not pleased with what it saw. A research consultant was hired for three months with a mandate to interview aboriginal students, their teachers and parents to determine what was being done well, as well as to identify the shortfalls.
Ripley said there was nowhere near enough funding to address all of the problems the report mentioned.
"We put a proposal together in the spring of 2000 for the Alberta government and we pitched them pretty hard. After a number of meetings they agreed to fund it on a pilot-project basis. That was the birth of Rainbow Spirit."
The key element was to have an aboriginal person on staff at the school. That gives aboriginal students a role model who believes in education and the hard work involved in their academic success. Second is the inclusion of all of the kids in the schools, not only the aboriginal children.
Last year, St. Alphonsus hired aboriginal teacher liaison Marieka Cardinal, who also teaches Grade 7 social studies and aboriginal studies option courses.
"An aboriginal liaison encompasses a lot of different things," she said. "I go into the classrooms and work alongside teachers to integrate aboriginal perspectives into the curriculum. For example, we make tepees and inuksuit (stone piles)."
Cardinal has taken a number of students, particularly junior high, to conferences such as Dream Catcher and Blueprint for the Future, a career fair for aboriginal students. There also went to the Braided Journey, offered through Aboriginal Learning Services.
Several cultural instructors also come to the schools to do projects with the children. They might be medicine wheel teachings or playing a wooden flute.
"When I go into a class and do a tepee instruction, for example, I don't just pull out the aboriginal students. I teach them all," Cardinal said. "I have seen a positive reaction from the non-aboriginal students.
"I have experience that pulling out only the aboriginal students can create borders. This way, there is a merging and everyone gets to experience the instruction. The elementary students enjoy it particularly."
Cardinal says having an aboriginal instructor in the school and recognizing aboriginal perspectives in the curriculum and the school environment helps the children to feel more positive about school. They want to be there and when their attendance is better, their grades are higher.
St Alphonsus principal Kim Brophy says the project has been exceptional. "With Marieka, the students are receiving exceptional cultural integration. She stays away from stereotypes. There is no elite group," he said.
More than 70 students are involved in the program at the school, about 20 per cent of the 360-student enrollment. Brophy has noticed an improvement in attendance.
"One hundred per cent of the parents surveyed feel it is beneficial to have aboriginal staff. I think they feel more welcomed. There is a trust building happening," he said.
St. Alphonsus Grade 4 student Candace Stevenson is a precocious child who said she now has the confidence to become a hairdresser when she grows up.
Sporting her own sprightly hairdo, Stevenson enjoys going to school.
"I'm treaty and it's hard to find someone of my culture teaching me ways to make things in arts, like tepees. Learning about our traditions, the reason the native people made their tepee houses was to follow the bison. Tepees were easy to take down," she said.
"I have learned how to say rabbit and baby in Cree. My mom thinks the Rainbow project is helpful to me because it's helping learn more about my culture."
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