Central Okanagan Public Schools is making a bid to have a locally developed course be authorized as an Indigenous-focused graduation credit with the Ministry of Education and Childcare.
The development of the course, called Indigenous Art Studio 12, has been led by Mount Boucherie Secondary art teacher Jim Elwood.
If authorized, it would complement the existing three ministry-authorized course options for Grade 11 and 12 students, beginning in the 2023-24 school year.
Speaking about the initiative at the education and student services committee meeting on Jan. 18, school district officials said the course credit application marks a carefully crafted first step in offering a diversity of new courses for students while at the same time putting the truth and reconciliation directive towards Indigenous culture into actual practice.
Parents began receiving notices from secondary schools last week about the new Indigenous-focus course credit initiative, one aspect of the provincial government’s overall commitment to seeking a path of Truth and Reconciliation with Indigenous culture.
The course options include English First Peoples (Grade 10, 11, 12) BC First Peoples (Grade 12) and Contemporary Indigenous Studies (Grade 12).
While concerns have been expressed about how students can fit the need for these course credits into their otherwise crowded curriculum schedules, one added benefit is these courses can also satisfy Grade 12 Language Arts and Socials 12 requirements.
But while the ministry is now coming around to the need to introduce courses related to Indigenous culture and history into school curriculums, Central Okanagan Public Schools has been working in this direction for more than a decade, working in close association with Westbank First Nation.
The initial groundwork was laid by Indigenous course offerings at Mount Boucherie open to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, the success of which has led to these courses being offered at other secondary schools.
Now the school district wants to see that past course establishment work adopted into graduation criteria moving forward, offering local Indigenous learning criteria for local students to learn more about the Indigenous culture they are growing up with.
Terry-Lee Beaudry, deputy school superintendent, told the committee every effort has been made with this first course application to address the qualification details.
She said other school districts have made similar course pitches and been rejected, a common reason being an absence of local Aboriginal band involvement in the process.
Beaudry said since the beginning, the Westbank First Nation has been involved in Aboriginal-related courses at the school district level, noting the band council sent a letter of endorsement signed by every band council member in support of the Indigenous Art Studio 12 course.
“It feels like the ministry can’t say no but this is our first attempt at this so we are working through the process and will work from that,” Beaudry said, calling it a “litmus test” for future course offerings that will embrace a wider selection of subjects such as science.
Kevin Kaardal, school district superintendent/CEO, said he too was optimistic the course will gain ministry approval.
“It’s not about if the ministry says no to this, they are saying no to us at the school district, they are saying no to the WFN and with their involvement in this process, I don’t think they really want to do that,” Kaardal said.
Ministry protocols call for Indigenous-focused graduation credit courses to have content that provides students the opportunity to develop a meaningful and substantial breadth and depth of knowledge and understanding of specific First Nations peoples, cultures, worldviews and histories in B.C., and be co-developed and approved by one or more local First Nations.
Jasmine Lemon, acting district vice-principal, Indigenous education, added existing courses have proven popular to all students in recent years, along the way bridging gaps of misunderstanding about local Indigenous culture and history.
Lemon said while student feedback has been enthusiastic, she also acknowledged parents’ concerns about demands on their child’s course credits, citing public information efforts by the school district, accessible on the Central Okanagan Public Schools website, can help address those concerns.
In particular, she noted an information poster, developed with the assistance of school district communications advisor Justin Schneider, as also being helpful for capsulizing in an accessible format the Indigenous-focused course requirements.