An elder in residence will improve high school completion and college transition rates for aboriginal students, School District 70 Superintendent Cam Pinkerton said.
SD 70 staff has approached North Island College about sharing an elder in residence between the two institutions. If the plan goes through the person will be in place by September 2014.
Elders cultivate social, emotional, and spiritual well-being of Aboriginal students. They help increase awareness and understanding of history, traditions and culture for all students and educators, Pinkerton said.
The initiative will also enhance Aboriginal students’ sense of belonging in the education system, something that is sorely needed, Pinkerton said.
There are more than 230 students of Aboriginal ancestry attending Alberni District Secondary School. Some 95 per cent of Aboriginal students who go to ADSS graduate. But only 42 per cent of those who complete Grade 8 finish Grade 12 six years later.
“That’s one of the intents of this: that it will boost the completion rate but also with transitioning to North Island College,” Pinkerton said.
The initiative has always been a priority, but one without resources to give it flesh and bones, Pinkerton said.
North Island College president John Bowman recently took a tour of ADSS and saw a small space set aside for an elder in residence. “He said they had a need for one at the Port Alberni campus but couldn’t fund it full time so maybe there’s an opportunity for us to split the cost and the use,” Pinkerton said.
The position will also help fill a critical cultural role, Aboriginal education worker Angie Miller said. The elder would continuously impart to students the principal of Haa-huupa, which translated means to be advised, guided and taught traditional teachings. “That’s something we see missing here,” Miller said.
The person could also connect with other elders in the community and work on social studies and social justice initiatives with school staff.
Miller said she already serves as a de facto elder in residence with some ADSS students who have gone on to post secondary studies. “There’s always a few students who have graduated who come back and see me,” she said. “I’d be honoured to serve in this kind of role when I retire.”
North Island College spokesperson Susan Auchterlonie confirmed that Pinkerton and Bowman discussed the possibility of jointly funding an elder-in-residence for the Alberni campus and ADSS.
“The discussion has not gone any further yet, but the college would like to bring the idea forward to its regional aboriginal advisory committee for consideration,” Auchterlonie said.
The NIC website notes that the college has elders in residence in its Campbell River and Comox Valley campuses.