British Columbia

Graduation rates hit record highs for Sea to Sky Indigenous students

By creating a curriculum that involves more Indigenous content, one of the smallest school districts in B.C. has been able to graduate more Indigenous students, more in fact than the provincial average.

Creating a more inclusive curriculum has benefited all students in School District 48

With graduation rates for Indigenous students below 40 per cent in 2009, School District 48 developed changes to its curriculum. Ten years later, the rate is now nearly 100 per cent. (CBC)

A big change at one of B.C.'s smaller school districts has led to a remarkable success story.

Ten years ago, B.C. School District No. 48 overhauled its curriculum to include more Indigenous content. Now, it's graduating a record high number Indigenous students.

"I think our results are showing that Indigenizing our way of being and learning from community how to do that, those are the strategies that we're doing different than we used to do," said Lisa McCullough, superintendent of schools for the region.

New statistics from the Ministry of Education appear to confirm the change is working. 

The percentage of Indigenous students graduating in the Sea to Sky region was just over 95 per cent last year, an increase of roughly 60 per cent since 2009, and much higher than the provincial average of 66 per cent.

A more inclusive curriculum

The change required collaboration with teachers, students, principals and community members.

Out of those discussions, a new curriculum was born, which looked at education through an Indigenous point of view. 

"Elders would say to me, what's good for our children is good for all children," said McCullough.

"When you focus on those most vulnerable people whoever they are, wherever you work, wherever your responsibilities are, the strategies that you employ to support them end up being universally available to everybody."

According to stats from the B.C. Ministry of Education, the Sea to Sky school district is now graduating Indigenous students at a rate nearly 30 per cent higher than the provincial average. (CBC)

Ten years ago, School District 48's graduation rate for non-Indigenous students was hovering around 70 per cent. Last year, it hit 100 per cent.

"All of a sudden everybody's blossoming and everybody's results are improving," says McCullough.

Charlene Williams, a First Nations culture and language teacher, has seen the results firsthand. She said all the students, not just Indigenous pupils, have benefited.

"All of the students, including the teachers, are learning more about our ways of knowing, being and doing and I think that instills a sense of pride in our Aboriginal students, and instills respect for our culture in students who aren't Aboriginal, a better way of understanding who we are."

Watch: First Nations teacher recalls the changes she's seen as a student and now as a teacher

Charlene Williams, a First Nations culture and language teacher in School District 48, says giving Indigenous people more of a voice in the curriculum has contributed to increasing graduation rates 3:48

Other schools are taking notice.

"Our colleagues around the province are getting their hands on this work," said McCullough. "British Columbia is focusing on our students of indigenous ancestry and we're learning from each other too."

The Ministry of Education provides data on the percentage of students who graduate from high school within six years of entering Grade 8.  

The following table shows results for School District 48 since the 2012-2013 school year. The district has just over 4,900 students in 15 schools.

Year

Resident

Indigenous

Total

2012-2013

88.4%

72.8%

82.1%

2013-2014

92.9%

81.1%

81.7%

2014-2015

92.0%

77.9%

75.2%

2015-2016

89.9%

81.7%

79.8%

2016-2017

96.9%

86.1%

93.3%

2017-2018

100%

95.3%

97.3%

with files from Mike Killeen