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Timmins Friendship Centre offers alternative high school program

Friday January 24, 2014

First Nations youth living in Timmins have another means to complete their high school education thanks to an alternative secondary school program at the Timmins Native Friendship Centre.

The Aboriginal Alternative Secondary School Program (AASSP) centre is designed for off-reserve Aboriginals to earn an Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) outside of the mainstream high school system and curriculum.

The Timmins Native Friendship Centre and AASSP work in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, District School Board of Ontario North East and the Timmins High and Vocational School to set the guidelines for independent learning courses and a unique, culturally sensitive satellite program substitute.

“The comfortable school atmosphere is sensitive to student’s daily needs. All areas of life are addressed in a culturally based environment,” said Neepin Sutherland, aboriginal alternative school liaison worker at the AASSP in Timmins. “We always look back to the emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual medicine wheel teachings. What I do with the program is I bring in cultural programming.”

The facilities are in a brand new building and classroom called the Red Door and contains computers and iPads. Registered students receive a daily breakfast and lunch, participate in school and extra-curricular activities and workshops like safe food handling.

To be eligible for the program, students must be between the ages of 16-21, been out of high school for at least a year, previously attended school and complete an intake interview.
“People who don’t meet the requirements are presented with alternative education sources,” said Sutherland.

The classroom capacity is 20 to 25 students with one teacher on site. Working towards a positive future, students complete courses at their own pace. The normal mainstream credit course load is eight per year. Students can accelerate this amount if they choose to and follow their own unique pathway at AASSP.

“Our typical school day consists of two periods dedicated for students to work on all different and independent booklets,” Sutherland said. “Programs differ with the students and what they need for credits. Some courses are teacher led.”

AASSP brings in traditional healers and teachers from the Misiway Milopemahtesewin Community Health Centre, Elders, workers, educators and programs from the TNFC and community arts and crafts instructors as guest speakers.

“We incorporate cultural and historical knowledge into the classroom,” Sutherland said. “It is very important to us to connect and reconnect the urban aboriginal to their culture and the history.”

Students who don’t meet the traditional school requirements or who don’t feel comfortable in high schools attend these programs to achieve success to move on to an apprenticeship, post-secondary school or work.

“We look at students who are having difficulty adjusting to the mainstream schooling; especially students from remote areas,” Sutherland said. “Some of the northern community’s classrooms are very small. Coming to an urban setting can get overwhelming. It’s why programs like this and other alternative education programs are in place.”

Sutherland described the school as a community acknowledging and supporting academics, while incorporating culture, diversity and social needs to achieve student success.

“Every success no matter what type is a success,” Sutherland said. “Whether it is handing in an assignment, trying something new or coming in on time, those are successes and those are the ones that matter. We are here to help students.”

Within the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres, 11 alternative high schools exist. Timmins and Red Lake Native Friendship Centres were the latest centres in northern Ontario to offer an alternative high school, where TNFC began to offer the program in 2010. The first programs began in three friendship centres (Sudbury, London and Fort Erie) in 1990.


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