In the continuing effort to provide the best education it can to all students, Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) is hoping the plans it has laid out for First Nations, Metis and Inuit (FMNI) students will create a better experience.
WCPS assistant superintendent of inclusive learning, Amber Hester, along with WCPS FMNI student success coordinator Shelagh Hagemann and two representatives from Maskwacis presented an update to the board of trustees at their meeting on Thursday, May 19 on their work that’s been done in the past year on assisting the mostly First Nations student population to feel more a part of the system instead of being crammed into one.
Entitled “Finding Our Way”, the report focuses on the journey of how the division and the four First Nations bands at Maskwacis (Montana, Louis Bull, Ermineskin, Samson) have been assessing this relationship and where they are going next.
“This isn’t just a Wolf Creek, but a provincial mandate,” Hester stated in the presentation.
“And we have gone through a number of guiding documents in order to prepare for this project.”
Aside from pouring over paperwork from the province on what they would like to see done and the numerous studies they had to look at, Hester and her team also got the opportunity to be part of a unique provincial pilot program that she explained went a long way to determining just what WCPS needs to do for the future.
“The project was to help figure out, with input from students, what learning strategies would work best in the classroom for them as well as the teachers,” Hester said.
Some of the results were shared with the board in the report and provided a great insight into how the students feel about trying to be integrated into the current system along with what they believe they need to be more successful academically.
Hagemann took the trustees through this section of the presentation, pointing out the majority of First Nations students felt they needed more time, less distractions, better access to technology and a wish that they could be accepted for who they are as well as have teachers recognize they don’t always have the same life at home as other students.
As Hagemann explained, “For many students, it isn’t that they don’t want to get the work done or finish their homework, it’s that they aren’t able to do it at home due to how life is there. As well, many of the students aren’t engaged in reading simply because they don’t have books about their culture or that make them feel good about who they are, so that’s a big reason for the focus on literacy.”
Hester added several key priorities and areas of concentration have been placed into the plan that will continue moving forward this fall.
That includes helping to close the achievement gap with First Nations students, providing programming such as how to get student to relate better through literacy plus work on providing Cree language education, better support on transitioning students into the WCPS system, building more capacity for both teachers and administrative staff to better assist in FMNI programming and continuing on with the work of the 15 person task force that has representation from all four Maskwacis bands, parents and the school division.
“Our partnership with the Montana band, along with a new registration process at Ponoka Secondary Campus, has been really helpful in better supporting that transition for their Grade 9 students to the high school,” Hester said.
“That’s always been a big culture shock for them, so we are continuing to look at how we can help each other work on improving that. We are also hoping to expand the present elder program to more of our schools, institute a female elder support program, expand our overall FMNI programming to more of our schools and look at embedding more FMNI content and perspectives into our classroom programming to cultivate a deeper and better understanding for everyone. We have seen many gains during the last two years, but more is needed.”