Going slow to move fast: Redefining learning and success for Indigenous students
Mount Boucherie Secondary School, a public secondary school in the Central Okanagan School District in British Columbia, has increased its Indigenous student graduation rate from 61% in 2011 to 78% in 2016. Their approach to Indigenous student success may offer a way forward on what has been an intractable problem in schools across Canada – Indigenous student success.
For over 15 years, British Columbia’s Ministry of Education has supported the development of Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreements between school districts, local Aboriginal communities, and the Ministry of Education, in order to both increase student success among Indigenous students and bring Indigenous learning to all students. As part of this initiative, Mount Bouchier Secondary School partnered with the local Indigenous community to design a 20 credit academic program, The Academy for Indigenous Studies. The program was initially targeted at the school’s most at-risk Indigenous students, but is now open to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.
The Academy for Indigenous Studies is a learning community that includes Indigenous teachers, Aboriginal Advocates, and Aboriginal Tutors. It explores Indigenous worldviews, contemporary Indigenous issues, Okanagan language and arts, and issues within the community. The course program is integrated into the local community and reflects the community’s interests and needs. It is coordinated by an Indigenous educator and delivered in partnership with the school and the local community.
The Academy for Indigenous Studies has successfully redefined the way students learn, what they learn, and how success is defined, to better reflect their identity and their community’s needs, interests, and issues. A number of factors appear to be critical to the program’s success:
- The program is coordinated by an Indigenous education leader, and involves Indigenous community members and elders in central roles within the program delivery.
- The school co-designs the learning with the local Indigenous community.
- Formal learning within the program occurs experientially, both within the school and in the wider community.
- As part of the formal learning, students work as partners on important community issues.
- The program includes both a pan-Canadian Indigenous world view and a local Indigenous perspective within the curriculum.
However, as André Rebeiz advises in his report on the initiative, this approach takes time and careful collaboration:
“Central Okanagan district leaders often cite the need to “go slow to move fast”: playing the long game to build trust-based relationships with First Nations communities, consult, evaluate what works, and prioritize initiatives strategically in areas where the impact will be greatest.”