By Yvonne Dick
Success is a journey that begins with a first step. For adults of the Montana First Nation band, an innovative new program is providing them with that first step.
A pilot project first introduced to Maskwachees Cultural College by Transcanada Pipelines, an industry partner that works with students in project building and other areas, the one-year program will run for three years, with the first year funded by Transcanada, which is involved with the college in various programs.
This course, taught in the same building as the band office, was offered to the Four Nations at Hobbema — the Montana band implemented it in September, with Louis Bull following in October and Ermineskin looking into it.
The partnership enables a set of training and education experiences to adults on the reserve who might not have completed high school as the reserve school goes up to only Grade 9. Training and teaching services are provided by Red Deer’s M-Train. Speciality training is brought in depending on the areas students need to work on. The program has been designed to follow the Canadian Language Benchmarks from the Centre for Canadian Language, up to the tenth benchmark, and it isn’t just about better English skills.
“The full name of the program is called the Kihtwam Macihta Literacy Numeracy Employment Preparation Program.” says Vickie Wetchie, employment services manager for Montana First Nation.
The title is big but so far students are achieving the not-so-small tasks set out by this pilot program.
“At the end they’ll be able to lead a group through a process, research reports, do a presentation for 20 to 40 minutes, fill out forms, understand tables and abstracts, critical thinking, documentation, look at data. It’s a huge task, so they’ll be able to enter the next stage which will be further training or employment, and the ultimate goal of employment. We’ll follow up with the group that finishes in April,” Wetchie says.
The first year enrolment filled quickly and there is now a waiting list for year 2, in spite of some of the usual barriers to learning on the reserve. Transportation, which is no small issue for an area that is 10 square miles, is size. The Montana band is not actually in Hobbema, they are about five minutes north of Ponoka, and 15 minutes away from Hobbema. Empowerment through education
Students might live as far as 10 miles from the nearest road to get to Hobbema, making it a nearly half-hour drive there or 20 minutes to Ponoka.
To help with that problem, the bus, driven by the program’s teaching assistant, Wayne Reindeer, will come to students’ homes and pick them up in the morning, returning them at the end of the school day.
“Our attendance is about 90 per cent. We have retained all 14 participants. I am very proud of them. Our leaders are all behind them. They have a community standing behind them to encourage them. The students are a group that have become a family,” says Wetchie, who has heard of students sharing the information they have learned with family members and friends so that entire families can learn along with the student.
The school day begins with morning sessions with life skills components. Self-esteem, career goals, coaching, towards the end of the program, and helping make the connections to employment and schools. Wetchie says that students will be taken and shown what they need to further their dreams – now that they are realizing that they have dreams and goals, and those dreams and goals can really happen — whether it’s college, or trades, or customer service. Some students would like to become such things as customer service representatives, security guards, college graduates, tradespeople. In the afternoon is the literacy component, online.
“When they go online, they see Louis Bull is online — they are all online together,” Wetchie said. “There are live sessions, which are saved for future student reference. Students can go back, review what they might have missed.”
Near-perfect attendance is a requirement of the program. Before being accepted, students attend a mini-interview and do some self-assessment tests before the program starts. At the end of each of the two semesters, they again assess themselves to see where they are compared to where they were. A student who might have indicated poor reading skills at the beginning might feel very differently by the end; one who was uncomfortable with numbers may now feel much more at ease.
“We are also teaching them the importance of budgeting money and also life experiences off the reserve. We want them to get that experience out there, make them realize they can go out to work and come home at night here. It’s about getting rid of the barriers so they can do that. Many people commute now, it’s a way of life. There aren’t many chances for on-reserve jobs, but it can always be their home. The need for labour force is out there, we want to train them to be part of it. We let them know they can have a meaningful life,” Wetchie explains. “We are really trying to highlight, to show people the good things that we can do and are doing. We are trying to help ourselves, to ensure that we have the ethics and responsibility as a society.”
Showing the students that a bright future awaits helps motivate them to move forward. “We talk a lot about empowerment.” Says Wetchie. “This is the way it’s done.”