The learning framework aims to support the challenges of Indigenous students

“If you have an identity it gives you pride and confidence, and if you have pride and confidence the world is there for you to conquer”

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As Indigenous students continue to face low graduation rates, public school officials are rolling out a new Indigenous learning framework that looks back to the truth of history in hopes of moving students toward success .

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For the third year in a row, less than half of Indigenous high school students in Calgary, or 48 per cent, graduate in three years, and only 53 per cent in five years – figures well below the provincial averages for 2021.

By comparison, 82% of all Calgary Board of Education high school students will graduate in three years in 2021, and 86% in five years, according to the latest academic achievement data.

Academic difficulties for Indigenous children, who make up about 4% of CBE students, continue even after a $13 million infusion to support them in the CBE’s 2020-2021 budget, an increase of $1.6 million. dollars over the previous year.

The final piece of this support is the “Holistic Indigenous Education Learning Framework” presented to CBE Trustees last week by a staff of six Indigenous Learning Team Trustees, and including input from 11 Elders Indigenous peoples and knowledge keepers from First Nations communities in southern Alberta.

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The detailed framework will train teachers to bring more Indigenous perspectives, experiences and traditions of learning into all classrooms at all levels, while responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, which include an age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, treaties, Aboriginal history and contemporary insights.

The goal, officials say, is to move forward in facing the dark truths of the past, including ongoing discoveries of unmarked children’s graves at former residential school sites across Canada.

The CBE recognizes that the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous student achievement continues to be too wide, and a framework like this can provide the unique supports that Indigenous children need.

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“Our goal is to close this gap, to ensure that these students are known for who they are, that teachers work closely with them and their families to enable them to reach their potential,” said Andrea Holowka. , superintendent of school improvement at the CBE.

“We know there is still a lot of work to do and we are committed to it.”

As part of the framework, all schools will now be encouraged to include more learning activities centered on Indigenous ways of life, such as outdoor learning, participation in traditional Indigenous ceremonies and practices, and the use more Indigenous resources and literature.

Schools are also encouraged to invite more Indigenous leaders into classrooms, including musicians and artists to work with all students.

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“This framework needs to come to life in schools, that’s the expectation, where we want to see all schools taking on this work,” Holowka added.

“We will use this in professional learning for staff, making sure all students are aware of Indigenous culture and experiences, but also really focusing on Indigenous students in schools, trying to have a significant impact on their education by knowing exactly how to support them. ”

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Events like Orange Shirt Day, observing the legacy of Canada’s residential school system on Sept. 30, could also be used as age-appropriate opportunities for learning and discussion, Holowka said.

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Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers have identified the framework as essential to providing Indigenous children with the self-esteem, autonomy and tenacity needed to succeed in school.

“Our students need identity,” said Leonard Bastien Weasel Traveller, a Blackfoot Elder from the Piikani Nation.

“If you have an identity, it gives you pride and confidence, and if you have pride and confidence, the world is there for you to conquer.”

According to Bastien, a large part of the solutions lie in including more Indigenous leaders in all modes of learning, whether hiring them to teach Indigenous languages ​​or inviting them as invited to work with students as mentors.

“We need role models. We need heroes, so all these kids can aspire to it and see what indigenous people can do in the community.

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But the framework also comes at a time when the education system continues to be criticized for what critics call a haphazard approach that does a disservice to the complexities of Indigenous history and culture.

Last week, Indigenous students and advocates called for CBE High School to be renamed after Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister and a staunch supporter of the country’s residential school system.

Although CBE officials say they are committed to supporting Indigenous students and Indigenous history, the issue has not been raised as part of the Indigenous Learning Framework discussions.

The Northwest Calgary School is just west of the Nose Hill Siksikaititapi Medicine Wheel, a monument that is on traditional Blackfoot territory and holds spiritual and historical significance to the Blackfoot Confederacy.

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Michelle Robinson, spokeswoman for the Reconciliation Action Group, said that while the learning framework makes sense, it must do more than just pretend to answer a complex problem.

“We need more than words, we need action. That’s why we call ourselves the Reconciliation Action Group, not the Word Group,” she said.

“All we want is a name change from this school, but there is a barrier, a wall, in terms of including parents and the general public in this dialogue.”

Robinson said she’s also worried about what might happen to the Indigenous learning framework if UCP’s controversial social studies curriculum – much criticized for its racist undertones and lack of respect for Indigenous history – was adopted within a year.

“What we need more than anything is anti-racism training and Indigenous education for all teachers.

But Holowka argues that the learning framework does just that and will train teachers to continue to imbue Indigenous ways of learning, no matter what curriculum the government offers.

“These will be foundational and enduring elements of our learning, enabling any proposed curriculum,” Holowka said.

“This professional learning will allow us to move forward.

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