Against a cultural ceremonial backdrop of singing, dancing and complimentary speeches, School District 72 and First Nations leaders renewed their commitment to young learners with the signing of their historic fourth Enhanced Aboriginal Education Agreement.
“Today is an historic occasion, the signing of our fourth enhancement agreement,” said Tom Longridge, SD72 superintendent, after thanking the Laich-kwil-tach First Nations for hosting the gathering on its traditional territories. “We are extremely proud that SD 72 is one of an elite few districts that have finalized their fourth agreement.”
The EA process was approved by the Ministry of Education starting in 1999, and Campbell River School District was in the first wave of districts across the province recognized with the five-year pact.
The district is one of three in the province to sign agreements that first year, along with the Okanagan and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows districts.
The agreement was developed through input from the local Aboriginal Education Advisory Council in community meetings, forums and surveys, and facilitated in part by Greg Johnson, SD72 principal for aboriginal education.
It was adopted by members of the Campbell River, Cape Mudge, Homalco, Klahoose and Kwaiakah First Nations, the Kwakiutl District Council, the Laichwiltach Family Life Society, Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council and North Island Métis Association, as well as Ministry representative Ted Cadwallader and SD72 board chair Susan Wilson.
““Campbell River School District is fortunate to have had a strong relationship with our Aboriginal community for over 35 years,” said Wilson. “We take great pride in the collaborative educational partnership that has developed between the district and our Aboriginal community.”
James Wilson of the Kwakiutl District Council (no relation to Susan Wilson) said that partnership extends back well beyond those 35 years.
“I was told of our history growing up in Cape Mudge,” he said. “Back in the 1920s the chiefs of the day made trans from big houses to the modern day houses and had electricity running to our village before Campbell River did. My grandfather and his generation fought for our children to go to regular schools and not residential schools. And my uncle, 30 years ago, was part of the people who put all this together. I know, because I was there, and watched it.”
The agreement sets out a series of goals that focus not only on academic improvement and expanded access and opportunity for aboriginal students, but a recognition and celebration of their heritage, culture and history within the larger student body.
“As stated in the agreement, we’re proud to acknowlege the formal relationship of trust and shared responsibility, focussing on meaningful success for all learners,” said Longridge.
SD72 has an Aboriginal student population of 1,113, which represents 21% of the total number of students in the district.
In the past five years, the six-year completion rate for Aboriginal students in the district has climbed from 56 per cent in 2009-10 to 64 per cent in 2013-14, which is higher than the provincial average. Once in grade 12, 96 per cent of Aboriginal students have graduated in the last three years, and last year 24 per cent graduated with honours standing.
“It’s important for Aboriginal learners to graduate with pride and confidence in who they are as individuals and who they will become,” Education Minister Peter Fassbender said in a written statement. “This historic fourth agreement affirms a sustained commitment to honouring a partnership and pathway for continued improvement in the achievement of Aboriginal students.”