There is a new job within the Wolf Creek School Division with a task as crucial as it is big — to bring aboriginal student performance up to an acceptable standard.
The division hired Shelagh Hagemann as its first First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI) student success co-ordinator last month, a position created to provide targeted support for the division’s aboriginal students, a cohort mostly schooled in Ponoka.
Last year, just 22 per cent of FNMI students in the division who had entered Grade 10 three years earlier graduated.
While an improvement over the 13.7 per cent high school completion rate realized in 2011-12, the mark remained well below the provincial average of 43.6 per cent.
By contrast, the division’s graduation rate for the entire student population sits at 71.4 per cent.
Wolf Creek superintendent Larry Jacobs said in addition to hiring the new co-ordinator, the division wants to make sure what it is teaching is relevant to the aboriginal population.
One of the ways to do that will be liaising with local elders to have them aid teachers and administrators.
“It’s also an opportunity for students to contact directly with somebody from the First Nations community, have somebody to go to if they need to,” said Jacobs.
He noted that within the aboriginal population there are often students who simply take more time to move through the educational system, not necessarily due to academic achievement or a lack thereof.
That understanding has helped Wild Rose School Division just to the west achieve student success far above provincial averages.
Roughly 10 per cent of Wild Rose’s 5,000 students are aboriginal, and the high schoolers among that group graduated at a rate of 72.7 per cent in 2011-12 and 69.6 per cent in 2012-13. Given an extra year or two to finish up, those percentages rise further.
The division started up its aboriginal resource centre in Rocky Mountain House in 2012, an initiative that has helped teachers and administrators establish deeper connections with FNMI students, said superintendent Brian Celli.
“We just expanded that program this year to take up a lot more flexible learning options for kids, because a lot of these kids, especially when they get to high school they have very fluid lifestyles. … If you go out to Saskatchewan or if there’s a death and you’re not able to get into the school for a couple of weeks, that doesn’t mean you have to stop learning or restart a course,” said Celli.
Wild Rose students can now tap into the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division’s online programs to keep learning wherever they are, he said.
Overall within Wild Rose the high school completion rate was 72.4 per cent, which is below the provincial average of 74.9 per cent.
Clearview School Division’s most recent mark rose nearly three points over the year prior to 84.4 per cent, making it one of the highest rates in the province. Also, a lower percentage of students in the division drop out compared to the provincial standard and more of them transition into post-secondary studies within six years of starting high school.
The east-central division has a low enough percentage of FNMI students that cohort statistics are not reported.
The large, rural Chinook’s Edge School Division set a new record with an 81.1 per cent high school completion rate in 2012/13. For the FNMI population, the rate was 55.8 per cent.
Data from the 2011 national census showed that 40 per cent of aboriginals aged 20 to 24 did not possess a high school diploma at the time of enumeration, compared to the overall national average of 10 per cent for all persons.