NANAIMO — Once again, less Indigenous students crossed the stage and received their diploma from a Nanaimo or Ladysmith school last year.
Recently released stats from the BC Ministry of Education show only 97 local Indigenous students, which is 52 per cent, graduated last year. It's the third year of declining numbers, from a high of 125 in the 2013/2014 year.
“We're disappointed these rates continue to drop and we're asking ourselves what more can we do to support our students,” Chris Beaton, executive director of the Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre, told NanaimoNewsNOW.
“We're already halfway through this school year and we don't want to see these rates decline for a fourth year in a row.”
To make sure this is the lowest grad rates fall, Beaton said organizations and the school district have to intensify their conversations with the local Indigenous community.
“What more can we do, what are we not doing right now, what do your sons and daughters require in order to be successful in school? And then we need to respond to that.”
In existing conversations, Beaton said it became clear there's three major issues prohibiting students from thriving in the traditional school environment.
“Families and students are saying they want more teachers and education assistants who are Indigenous, they want to see our culture and history reflected in the curriculum being taught and they want to see the buildings themselves be welcoming to our people.”
Scott Saywell, assistant superintendent of secondary schools, said boosting the graduation rates will be a key part of the districts strategic plan going forward.
“At least some of those students end up in our alternate programs and we're trying to do a better job there with our Aboriginal outreach program.”
He said several outreach workers were recently hired to try to engage Indigenous youth back into the education system.
When asked how the grad rates dwindled, Saywell said Aboriginal outreach programs went “by the wayside” several years ago when enrollment numbers were down and programs were being cut due to funding issues. With enrollment numbers and money coming in now quickly rising, he said those programs are being built back up.
Both Saywell and Beaton were optimistic this will be the last year rates spiral downwards.
“We're seeing more and more role models from our Indigenous community who have achieved great success,” Beaton said.
“There are a lot of good news stories out there, this is just one area we need to spend some time on in the next little while in this city to make sure we don't see (the grad rate) decline for a fourth year in a row.
Across the province, the number of Indigenous students graduating stayed steady around 72 per cent.
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