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Recent grads Kesley Pepion and Jewel Couchman talked about why they think high school graduation rates for Indigenous kids in B.C. are on the rise. Photo by Katie Hyslop

Indigenous grad rates going up in BC

70 per cent of Indigenous students graduated within six years in 2017/18

Jewel Couchman recalls being “furious” six years ago when she found out she was being transferred out of Vancouver’s public school system and into 8J9J, an alternate school on Britannia Secondary School campus, for Grade 8.

“I thought if you go to alternative, that’s where the bad kids go who can’t do mainstream,” said Couchman, who is of Ojibwe descent.

But she gave it a shot and discovered her assumptions were wrong. “I tried it out and I ended up loving it,” Couchman said. She soon decided: “This is the place I need to be.”

Now  at 18 years old, Couchman credits Outreach Alternate, another alternate school on the Britannia campus geared specifically towards Indigenous student for helping her graduate a year early in June 2017.

‘For the first time… I actually liked going to school’

Couchman and her former Outreach classmate, Kesley Pepion, 19, extol the virtues of alternate schools in helping Indigenous students who are misunderstood or pushed out of mainstream education to graduate.

“The alternative [schools] definitely have a big part to play in that,” Couchman said.

In 2009, less than half of Indigenous students attending public schools graduated within six years of entering Grade 8.

But last month, the province revealed that 70 per cent of Indigenous students graduated within six years in 2017/18 — a four per cent jump from the previous year. There are 70,500 Indigenous students in B.C., about 11 per cent of the total public and private school enrolments.

Jump in numbers partly credited to Indigenous content in curriculum

It was the highest one-year increase since 2010/11 and part of a steady reduction in the gap between graduation rates for Indigenous students and the overall provincial grad rate of 88.7 per cent. (The public school only graduation rate is 88.5, while the private school rate is 90.6. This only includes B.C. residents, not international students.)

An education ministry news release celebrating the jump credited it to the new curriculum including more Indigenous content.

Increased Indigenous content in school curriculum is one of the 94 Calls to Action that came out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Residential Schools in 2015, which the B.C. government has vowed to implement.

But only the new Kindergarten to Grade 10 curriculum is mandatory in all B.C. schools this year. The Grade 11 and 12 curriculum is still in the soft rollout phase and not mandatory until July 2019.

So why are Indigenous students’ graduation rates suddenly accelerating?

The Tyee went to the experts: recently or nearly graduated Indigenous youth like Couchman, to ask their thoughts on what is fuelling the grad rate increase. We also asked what else could be done to bring Indigenous graduation rates on par with the rest of the province. Read more...

Source: The Tyee


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