SD72 leads way in ‘Hall of Excellence’

An innovative idea that Campbell River's school district is leading the way in has received some accolades

The provincial government announced last Thursday that it is celebrating the exceptional accomplishments of B.C.’s public service employees in a new form of recognition, the B.C. Public Service Hall of Excellence.

One of the entrants to the Hall, however, is not an individual, but an idea, and it’s one in which Campbell River’s School District 72 (SD72) is leading the way. It’s the Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreements (AEEAs) that are being formed throughout the province between Aboriginal peoples and their school districts. According to SD72 Principal of Aboriginal Education and Alternate Programs Greg Johnson, out of the 60 school districts in B.C., 53 have at least one AEEA, but only SD72 has four.

Or, at least, it will shortly. Johnson says the fourth deal is in the final stages right now, and will be enacted within a very short time.

So, what’s an AEEA, anyway?

According to Johnson, about 30 years ago, Aboriginal people began approaching school districts to express their dissatisfaction with the learning outcomes of their children in terms of their education within the public school system.

“These kids weren’t having success because the sense of belonging, their sense of culture and heritage just wasn’t there in the schools. They felt like outsiders,” Johnson said.

“(These agreements are) about going to the community and the Aboriginal peoples you represent and finding out from them what they feel will help their children succeed in their education, and then figuring out how to best incorporate those ideas, and it is definitely seeing some success.”

According to Johnson, when he came on with SD72 during the 2008-2009 school year, “the grad rate amongst Aboriginal students was at 46 per cent, and in just the last six years or so, well, we’re at 69 per cent now, but we’ve gotten it as high as 72 per cent, so there’s definitely some progress being made.”

And it’s not just because the Aboriginal students are getting some of their cultural art up on the walls, or that their ceremonies are getting a place in school assemblies now. It’s a cultural shift within the schools themselves, highlighting and celebrating Aboriginal culture within the fabric of the educational system. It’s a pervasive, foundational change in the way those within the education system look at Aboriginal culture and history, not only for the kids who identify with it, but also the predominantly non-Aboriginal educators and students. Johnson said although they have made excellent progress thus far, they still have a long way to go before Aboriginal students will see similar educational outcomes as non-Aboriginal students, but he’s confident they’ll get there.

“The successes we’ve had really demonstrate the strong cooperative relationships between the Aboriginal community and the district and that we’re in a place where we can build this program to this extent and continue to progress with these goals,” he said.