For decades, the schools in Ponoka have been providing education to nearby First Nations students.
And now, that working relationship with the Montana First Nation has been finally formalized with the signing of a partnership agreement Sept. 21.
The agreement sets out the process, strategies and other structures necessary to ensure the needed supports and programs are in place for the Grade 9 students and those that are not presently attending school to make a smooth transition to either Ponoka Secondary Campus or Ponoka Outreach School in order to continue their education.
The large event took place in front of the Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) office and included a pipe ceremony led by one of the Montana First Nation elders in a traditional teepee.
Currently, there are a total of 414 students from Montana First Nation taking classes at either the high school or outreach and the hope is that number will increase over time.
“This partnership is long overdue and we have a long history of working together, but we have not taken this important step,” said Amber Hester, WCPS assistant superintendent of inclusive learning services, to the crowd of about 100 people gathered outside the division’s office.
“I want to take the time now to thank the work of the band council, their education team plus our trustees and the First Nation Métis Inuit co-ordinator on this formal agreement that will help build the bridge toward understanding and support for these students.”
Hester added those students presently attending WCPS schools or will be entering them after completing Grade 9 at the Montana First Nation’s Meskanahk Ka-Nipa-Wit School are who this agreement is targeted at so that they can have the opportunity to succeed at the high school level.
“It’s about integration and transition to close that gap in achievement, retention and graduation,” stated Hester.
The goals of the partnership are to see students move seamlessly from one school to another while also seeing those First Nation youths not currently attending school receive assistance, via a satellite program, to work toward or begin attending classes.
This will be accomplished through WCPS providing assistance that will also include involving wrap-around and inter-agency supports for students, complete with monitoring their progress as well as providing ongoing-support, educational or otherwise, to help increase the number of First Nation students that graduate.
“We are committed to investing in this relationship to ensure it remains strong,” added Hester.
Meanwhile, Montana Chief Darryl Strongman is excited about this new venture for his community.
“There will be definite growing pains, but we will correct and resolve them as we go. Just like everyone else, we just want to see the best for our children and this goes hand in hand with that,” he told the crowd.
“I’ve never been involved with something like this before and I’m excited about this new way of doing things. I think it’s awesome and our hope is to make it as easy as possible for (the students).”
Chief Strongman also thanked everyone that brought this idea to fruition, adding, “I know that good things are ahead.”