Indigenous language and land-based learning will be at the forefront of a new education model for elementary pupils at a London-area First Nation this school year.
Chippewas of the Thames First Nation and its education board have teamed up to restructure staff — hiring two new co-principals — and programming that is more tailored to the culture and needs of pupils at Antler River elementary school.
“We’re really trying to decolonize our system, not taking the traditional principal-vice-principal-director kind of hierarchy approach,” JoAnn Henry, co-chair of the education board, said of the recent changes.
“We’re looking at more of a team-based approach,” she said.
The decision to hire co-principals Michelle Brown and Jenna Southen comes after the board successfully adopted the same leadership approach when it appointed two of its members as co-chairs earlier this year.
Along with their strategic plan, the board and First Nation are introducing an education framework called RAISE, which stands for Representation, Amplify, Inspiration, Support, and Engage and Empower.
“It’s created in a way where teachers learn to do self-reflection and ask reflective questions of not only themselves, their pedagogy, but the school system as well,” Henry said.
The new framework, working in conjunction with the strategic plan, will help enhance land-based, lifelong and language learning, among several key areas, and strengthen the identity of students at Antler River.
With land-based learning, Henry said, the conversation at the board level centred on questions such as: “How do we support our children of Chippewas of the Thames First Nation to be proud of who they are and where they come from?”
She added: “They have to know who they are and where they come from, what this land means to us and Indigenous people.”
Other priorities at the school include increasing students’ literacy and math comprehension and using different assessments to measure student success, boosting support for its special education program and strengthening Anishinaabe values.
Around 120 pupils will return to Antler River school for the start of the new school year on Tuesday. The school has 30 teaching and support staff.
First Nations schools like Antler River are funded by the federal government, not the province.
“Money still flows federally . . . which affects our teachers because we are not at par with the provincial system as far as the funding,” Henry said.
She said the First Nation is working with the First Nations With Schools Collective, an organization representing eight First Nations in Ontario, to change the funding model.
A new model would support schools “in a way that represses the (colonial) past, those historical inequities that our First Nations schools are faced with — and that, No. 1, is lack of funding,” Henry said.
Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press