The New Westminster school district still has more work to do to support its Indigenous students, a new report says.
A focus on Indigenous education was part of the district’s recent review of inclusive practices, which took place over the 2019/20 school year and saw a final report presented to trustees at the June 23 school board meeting. (See a story on the full report here.)
Kathy Guild, one of three consultants who led the review process, said the New West district has an established Indigenous education program that has already made “significant progress” in terms of the achievement of Indigenous students. As of 2018/19, the New West district had 298 Indigenous students among its approximately 7,000 students.
The report notes a number of aspects of the Aboriginal education program that are currently working well, including an Aboriginal education room at New Westminster Secondary School and the presence of an Aboriginal worker at each school.
“But there’s always more work to do to bring this group of students into an equity position with the rest of the students in New West,” Guild said.
One of the areas of concern is academic support – and ensuring it’s provided right from the beginning.
“That support needs to really be built into the system in a systematic way and needs to start early,” she said. “If kids are requiring extra support, that really needs to be in place so that those kids are not falling behind, but thriving as they go through their elementary and high school years.”
Another necessary focus, she said, is improving knowledge and understanding of Indigenous culture district-wide.
“That is something that the entire school community needs to continue to improve upon, and that would certainly help with providing a culturally safe environment for Indigenous staff and students and families to feel welcomed into the community of the New Westminster school system,” she said.
The third area of concern Guild cited was social-emotional and cultural supports for students. She said Indigenous students need to be able to connect with their Indigenous heritage through “authentic cultural teachings.”
Specific challenges noted in the report included not enough Aboriginal support worker time at each school and the lack of dedicated spaces for the Aboriginal program at some schools. The report also highlighted suggestions such as more training for teachers about Indigenous culture and history, more funds for cultural events for whole school communities, and employment equity in terms of hiring teachers and staff of Indigenous heritage.
The review is just one piece of ongoing work by the New Westminster school district on the Aboriginal education front.
In January 2019, the school board endorsed an Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement, covering the years 2018 to 2023, that was developed with input from students, families, staff and partner groups on the district’s aboriginal education advisory committee. Also in January 2019, the school board officially committed to implementing recommendations of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Earlier this month, the district also posted for a district vice-principal to oversee Indigenous education and equity.
A full copy of the Inclusive Practices Review final report is available in the agenda from the June 23 school board meeting. You can find that online here.