School district representatives, politicians and aboriginal students gathered at the Sensisyusten House of Learning gymnasium in Westbank Wednesday to celebrate the second five-year enhancement agreement to improve education for aboriginal students.
The five-year agreements are a commitment by school districts, local aboriginal communities and the Ministry of Education to work together to support aboriginal learners.
Moyra Baxter, chairperson of School District 23’s Board of Education, said the original agreement brought significant progress.
Academic supports—such as tutors in middle and secondary schools, breakfast and homework clubs—and unique programs such as the Academy of Indigenous Studies and Aboriginal Student Leadership courses have helped aboriginal students feel more connected to their schools.
“The Aboriginal Education Program has supplied me with amazing opportunities,” said Saige-Taylor Werstuik, a Mount Boucherie Senior Secondary student.
“It has introduced me to things I never thought I would do, or even things I never thought I’d be interested in.”
Grade 12 MBSS student Quentin Scott said he was grateful for those who helped him get through three tough years of high school by helping with difficult subjects and making sure he attended classes.
Baxter noted the second agreement will continue to focus on student achievement.
“This is a recommitment to working together on behalf of our students,” said Baxter.
“Over the past five years our graduation rates have gone up.
“That’s really positive because we don’t want to see any disparity between our aboriginal students and our other students.”
She added a spinoff benefit has been non-aboriginal students have gotten the opportunity to learn about aboriginal culture.
There are currently 2,228 aboriginal students in the Central Okanagan School District for the 2013-14 school year, making up 11 per cent of the overall student population.
Wednesday’s ceremony began with a grand march, featuring dancing by Central Okanagan School District aboriginal students, and concluded with the official signing ceremony.
“We’ve come a long way,” said Pauline Terbasket, executive director with Okanagan Nation Alliance, who was speaking on behalf of Grand Chief Stewart Phillip.
“It’s been a hard journey, and continues to be a struggle. But what an opportunity this brings us. It demonstrates that journey of coming along and finding ways and means to work together…for the better of our children.”