Recent History – 2004-2006
By Gary Rusak, March 2005
Children as young as 10 years old who are not attending school at all was just one of the pressing issues discussed at the Aboriginal Advisory Council Meeting on Wednesday afternoon.
“It affects a small percentage of the school population,” said Caron Jones, aboriginal liaison teacher for School District 59. “But, it certainly concerns us when we see that students are not in school.”
Jones said that the problem affects both aboriginal and non-aboriginal students, but that the majority of those missing classes are male aboriginals.
“The issue is that there is a small number of kids, mostly boys, and we haven’t been able to develop a program that fits them yet,” she said. “Right now we are at the table discussing how can we hook these kids back into school.”
Although it is illegal, under The School Act, for children under 16 not to attend school, Jones said that the local cases have fallen between the cracks.
“It is illegal but there is no teeth in anyone’s policies that say what they’re going to do about it,” Jones said. “The Ministry of Children and Family Services won’t do anything if the kids are not in school and we don’t have any truancy officers to go out and find the kids.”
Jones has convened a committee to examine the issue with the hopes of finding some way of keeping tabs on the vulnerable population. A new program will be up and running after spring break, Jones said.
“We have never totally let go of them,” she said explaining that outreach workers through the school district do visit the truant kids on a regular basis. “But, we are always trying to coax them back to school. We know that the regular program is not something that works for every kid.”
The Aboriginal Advisory Committee was established by the School District four years ago and is made up of aboriginal advocates from the city. The committee offers its recommendations to the school board on a variety of issues facing the aboriginal student community. One of its long-term goals is to address the low graduation rates of aboriginal students, a rate that is approximately 30 per cent lower than the non-aboriginal rate according to the latest statistics released by the school district. Jones said that while bolstering graduation is a long-term goal, the committee is taking initial steps to deal with the problem.
“One of the things that I have seen as a success is the pride that aboriginal kids are taking in themselves being aboriginal,” said Jones. “They are not ashamed of who they are and that is something that we will continue to work on.”