Recent History – 2004-2006
By Brad Lyon, 15 February 2006
South Peace Secondary School has been tabbed as one of the success stories when it comes to improving performances for Aboriginal students in the province. According to a report released last week by the Fraser Institute – Report Card on Aboriginal Education in British Columbia: 2006 Edition – SPSS ranks fifth out of 50 secondary schools examined in B.C. Aboriginal achievement has been a focal point provincially and locally, according to SPSS principal Keith Maurer.
“As a province we’ve been focusing on Aboriginal achievement, and separating out data so we report data separately on Aboriginal students, and that we create school growth plans and strategies targeted to closing that gap,” said Maurer.
At the school, Maurer said one of the first things he did when becoming principal three years ago was to establish a “welcome room.” The room is open to all students, but is directed towards Aboriginal students who may be in need of some assistance.
“We are creating a culturally and emotionally safe environment for these students to come into,” Maurer said. “It’s very well used. One of the things I think we first forget is to acknowledge and rejoice the other cultures in our schools and our communities.”
In the welcome room, students can get academic support, and intervention support including behaviour and emotional help. The school also has an Aboriginal teacher who tracks the programs and examines data. As well, Maurer said the school has worked on developing alternative programs that are there for any student who wants to enroll, “but certainly they’re there for Aboriginal students.”
One program operates at the Nawican Friendship Centre, while another is at the Enterprise Centre. The Enterprise Centre program runs half-days in the morning, and then in the afternoon students are in option blocks, with some at Northern Lights College for a transition-to-work program and others working.
“We try to put things in place that suit the students’ needs rather than being a ‘square peg run through a round hole’ type of thing,” Maurer said. “The premise we try working on is what can we do differently that will help them succeed.”
The Fraser report showed that Aboriginal students still lag behind non-Aboriginal students on provincial tests in grades 4, 7 and 12. In addition, fewer Aboriginal students complete school, and those who do graduate take longer to do so. But there were signs of progress, according to report co-author, Peter Cowley. “Aboriginal results on reading and numeracy tests at both grades four and seven are improving, although not enough to close the gap on the general student population. In addition, more Aboriginal students in grades 9, 10 and 12 are successfully completing their school year,” Cowley said.
At SPSS, the numbers for the 2003-04 school year showed a 100 per cent graduation rate, compared to 67 per cent in 1998, and an average exam mark of 65 per cent for Aboriginal students compared to 58.1 per cent in 1998. While those numbers are impressive, Maurer points out there is still work to be done and areas where further achievement is needed. He said that when looking at the cohort data for grade eight students in 1999, the graduation rate for all Aboriginal students at SPSS is 72 per cent. But for many years SPSS did not deal with all of the students in grades 10-12 in the city. As a result, when Dawson Creek as a whole is considered, that graduation rate for Aboriginal students drops to 39 per cent.
“That is not as pleasing. The data can be looked at in many ways, and you’ve got to be open to looking at the bigger picture,” Maurer said. “But now South Peace is responsible for all students grades 10 to 12. We now have the alternate programs, we now have a welcome room within the school, we have an Aboriginal program. We look at the data separately, it’s even built into our school plan for student achievement. We have separate strategies looking at what we can do to close the Aboriginal gap.”
Three of the top six-ranked schools are in the Northeast. Prince George Secondary School was second, while North Peace Secondary School in Fort St. John was fourth. Chetwynd Secondary School ranked 41st. Schools with fewer than 15 Aboriginal students in grade 12 were excluded. Schools were ranked based on average exam marks, percentage of exams failed, school vs. exam mark difference, exams taken per student, graduation rate and delayed advancement rate. Elementary schools were also ranked, with Chetwynd’s Little Prairie number one in the province out of 65. Schools with fewer than 10 Aboriginal students in both grades four and seven were excluded.