British Columbia

Sea to Sky school district sees huge increase in Indigenous graduation rates

The principal of Aboriginal education for the Sea to Sky school district says the district has had huge success in improving the graduation rate for Indigenous students.

Restructure of curriculum credited for the success

District officials collaborated with teachers, principals and community members in developing a learning strategy for students, according to the district's principal of Aboriginal education. (Mark Felix/The Orange County Register/Associated Press)

As the end of the school year approaches and students across the province prepare for graduation, one district in particular is celebrating significant success.

Indigenous students in the Sea to Sky school district had a graduation rate of 86.1 per cent in the 2016-17 school year — up from 35 per cent in 2009.

That's compared to a provincial average of 66 per cent for Indigenous students.

School District No. 48's principal of Aboriginal education, Susan Leslie, says the high graduation rate is the result of a district-wide push to restructure their approach to learning.

"This is on every level," said Leslie. "We're led as a district by the goals and commitments that we co-created through our strategic plan."

'It's not static, it's collaborative'

Leslie said district officials collaborated with teachers, principals and community members in developing a learning strategy for students.

"That was a huge turning point, when we started making sure every student has access to learning and support for their strengths," she said.

The recently revamped B.C. curriculum was approached through an Indigenous lens, said Leslie, which led to structural changes in the district's classrooms.

Real-life problem solving was core to many of the school projects, she said, and there was an effort to make sure the subjects taught were interesting to students.

"Learning is ongoing. It's not static, it's collaborative," Leslie said.

While developing the education strategy, Leslie worked closely with the district's Aboriginal Youth Council, which is made up of 80 students from different high schools.

'They're brilliant, they're smart'

Leslie said not only Indigenous students saw an increased graduation rate due to the district's new approach to education.

Overall, the entire district saw more students get their high school diploma than in previous years, she said.

Hereditary Chief Robert Joseph of the Gwawaenuk First Nation, an ambassador for Reconciliation Canada, echoed Leslie's conviction of how important these graduation rates are.

"There are so many young Indigenous kids graduating," said Joseph.

"They're brilliant, they're smart and, by the numbers, they're beginning to become educated."

With files from The Early Edition and BC Today

Read more from CBC British Columbia