Indigenous student graduation rates reached an all-time high in the Okanagan-Similkameen school district according to the latest report on School District No. 53.
The 2019-2020 Aboriginal How Are We Doing Report was recently released, an annual report to the Ministry of Education, highlighting Indigenous students’ performance throughout the school district on foundational skills, literacy and numeracy, course completion results and graduation rates. The report compares the rates to previous years as well as the rest of the province’s school districts.
Indigenous students are performing significantly above the provincial average in Grade 4 and 7 foundational skills assessments. In 2018 and 2019 the district saw an improvement of nine per cent for Indigenous students’ six-year school completion, jumping to a 65 per cent completion rate from 57 per cent the previous year. The positive trend continued to improve in 2019 and 2020, with the district seeing a 69 per cent completion rate —a five-year high in the district’s Indigenous student graduation rate. There were 500 students who self-identified as Indigenous in SD53 in 2019 and 2020, about 21 per cent of the school district’s student population.
The results of the report are encouraging said Bev Young, superintendent of School District No. 53, at the school board’s Jan. 27 meeting.
“Again we’re noticing an increase in overall achievement for our Indigenous students which is wonderful and we have a new all-time, five-year high for the achievement of our Indigenous students when we look at literacy, numeracy and school completion. So that’s good news and we’re on the right track,” Young said.
The results stem from a major effort by the school district according to SD53’s Director of Learning and Inquiry, Marcus Toneatto.
“We are putting a real concerted effort into making stronger connections with our Indigenous students and their families. We are trying to make our schools more welcoming and we are basically opening things up to look at where does systemic racism exist and how can we address it?” Toneatto said. “We are doing some, I think, amazing work in the schools on Indigenizing the curriculum.”
SD53 has brought a number of programs to schools in the district including the EPIC program (Experiential, Project-Based, Indigenous, Community) at the Southern Okanagan Secondary School and English First Peoples courses at SOSS and Similkameen Elementary Secondary School.
“We’ve done a really good job of really embracing diversity in all areas but especially for Indigenous people. This has been an issue for a number of years, this isn’t something that’s recent, we’ve had a huge equity gap in our schools and across the province, but we look at our own school,” Toneatto said.
The report shows and upward trend of progress and the future is looking bright as well for the school district with a projected 73 per cent six-year completion rate for Indigenous students next year, but Toneatto notes there is still much work to be done.
“The only way we are going to create equity in our district is by putting much more effort into success and achievement for our Indigenous students and meeting them where they’re at and finding what their needs are and making our schools welcoming. And working with our First Nations,” Toneatto said.
In 2020 and 2021, the school district is participating in the Equity in Action Project, a Ministry of Education initiated project looking at SD53’s practices and achievements with Indigenous students and their families and identifying gaps that need improvement.
Two surveys have been developed and will roll out shortly, one sent out to all Indigenous students in the school district and another to their families.
The surveys are designed to provide the school district with information from each community on topics including implicit bias, systemic racism, communication and outreach to Indigenous families and communities, the perceived level of incorporating Indigenous world views and perspectives at school, how welcoming schools are to Indigenous students and their families and how well the school district represents culture and sense of belonging.
“We know that this information is going to be vital, we have plans to survey the students right at school and going to initiate some sort of phone-out to parents as well so that we get a large enough sample to have a look at this and we’ll certainly report back the trends that we’re finding,” Young told the school board at the Jan. 27 meeting.
Dale Boyd, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Times-Chronicle