PEI

More P.E.I. aboriginal students graduating than national average

The percentage of First Nations students graduating high school on P.E.I. is much higher than the national average, according to island education officials.

About 90% of First Nations students graduate high school on P.E.I.

More aboriginal students on P.E.I. are going on to graduate high school over the national average. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

The percentage of First Nations students graduating high school on P.E.I. is much higher than the national average, according to island education officials.

The national Aboriginal Affairs Working Group has set improving high school graduation rates as one of its priorities. Only 77 per cent of First Nations students living off-reserve in Canada got a diploma in 2010, according to Statistics Canada. That's compared to a graduation rate of around 90 per cent of Island First Nation students.

Allan Gillis, education director with the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I., said he thinks one of the reasons for the Island's higher than average aboriginal graduation rate is many parents today are more involved — because many are children of residential school survivors.

"Those indivdiuals are parents now and they recognize the importance of being involved in their children's lives," Gillis said.

The Mi'kmaq Confederacy also has hired a transitions co-ordinator, who tracks First Nations students as they go through the school system, making sure they have the support they need to do well in school, Gillis said.

Gillis said the biggest challenge is helping students make the transition in the intermediate years — Grades 7 to 9. Gillis said that's when most of the First Nations students drop out.

The transitions co-ordinator watches for red flags such as, has the student started to skip school?  Are they struggling wtih reading or math? Are their grades slipping? If there are problems, the co-ordinator works with the parents and the school to come up with an action plan to help, Gillis said.

Darrell DesRoches, the aboriginal education specialist with P.E.I.'s Department of Education, said he believes adding first nations content in classes is also helping.

"To see themselves and their culture and their language reflected in the curriculum is only a good thing. And it helps them feel more comfortable transitioning from their community schools into the provincial school."

A pilot Mi'kmaq language class, in grade 7,  that also covers Mi'kmaq culture, heritage and history is in its second year at Hernewood Intermediate in O'Leary.

However, plans to expand Mi'kmaq classes to the Morell and Mount Stewart schools have been put on hold for the time being, because of a lack of teachers, DesRoches said.

Gillis and DesRoches say work continues, because, despite P.E.I.'s success, they want to encourage more First Nations students to get an academic diploma rather than a general high school diploma — something that could open even more doors in the future.

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