Thunder Bay catholic board expands programming
The Ontario ministry of education is initiating better programming and supports for Aboriginal students at the Catholic School Board in Thunder Bay this year.
The school board has 20 schools from senior kindergarten to grade 6, three grade 7 and 8 schools and two high schools.
“For aboriginal students, we provide an after school program to address life skills, cultural awareness and academic improvement, structured activities and healthy nutrition for children,” said Omer Belisle a Lake Helen community member and the Thunder Bay catholic school board superintendent of education.
“We have aboriginal councillors at high schools and our senior elementary schools, transition programs, Aboriginal councillors leading mentorship and leadership programs and supports for students and families through an aboriginal outreach worker,” he said. “There are a number of cultural celebrations in the schools and participation in the national Aboriginal day that’s a big part of our system.”
The school board does have an Aboriginal advisory council. They have implemented a self-identification program and are interested to incorporate an Elder’s program with youth mentorship programs, storytelling, and oral language strategies and will identify culturally-relative social justice issues.
“We continue to offer native studies and languages, but we are looking to expand,” he said. “What we did last year is we surveyed a couple of schools, where we think that native language might like to be offered and we received feedback, indicating families are looking for an aboriginal language program at that school.”
One of those families is the Pelletier family. Helen Pelletier is a student of Indigenous studies, an aboriginal coordinator at Lakehead University, an active community member of Fort William First Nation and mother, who balances out her life to provide a culturally-rich education for her eight-year-old daughter Daanis.
To foster a positive aboriginal identity Pelletier teaches her daughter about the land, cultural activities and involves her family in community events on and off reserve to understand the diversity of cultures. Pelletier said the school her daughter is enrolled in matches most of the cultural education goals she has for her daughter.
“I come from a strong family who like to honour the history,” she said. “When it comes to education, I made sure that my daughter was being educated in culture at school and at home.”
She also tries to share her own education daily with her daughter and beleives this will create a future leader.
“Culture is just starting to become a lifestyle again. It should not be something you have to be reminded to do. Culture is very important to us,” she said.
The school board reports that it does examine data to bridge any gaps in the educational system for Aboriginal students. The school is looking to purchase more responsive and dual-language literature and increase its language offerings.
“Our job now is to find qualified teachers for schools requiring more language programs,” Belisle said. “We are currently doing that and we are hiring qualified native language teachers. Both of our current native language teachers are fluent and that’s very important to us as well.”
“We are always working towards improving and helping our First Nation students.”
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