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Urban Aboriginal Education – Information Update on Pilot Project

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Early in 2008 the Aboriginal Education Office of the Ministry of Education initiated the planning process for pilot projects aimed at supporting success in school for urban-based Aboriginal students. The projects focus on reaching out to Aboriginal families, communities and other service delivery organizations. This initiative aligns with a key commitment of the province's First Nation, Métis and Inuit Education Policy Framework:

"In collaboration with school boards, First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities and organizations, develop innovative approaches to meet the needs of First Nation, Métis and Inuit students living in large urban centres."

A Steering Committee with broad-ranging representation from First Nation and Métis organizations, from school boards and from post-secondary institutions has been overseeing the Urban Aboriginal Education initiative. Lakehead DSB, Simcoe County DSB and Toronto DSB are the three school boards that have launched pilot projects.

Each project has a local sub-steering committee that is broad-based and includes First Nation communities and organizations, the municipality and local university and colleges.

CURRENT STATUS OF PILOT PROJECTS

Lakehead
The pilot project was officially launched in October, 2008 and has generated great interest across the community. 1500 students in Lakehead schools have identified as First Nation, Métis or Inuit.

Training/Curriculum: These aspects of the project include: cultural sensitivity training in all schools; Aboriginal Education Resource Teacher "at-elbow" coaching; Aboriginal special Assignment Teachers in each high school; building aboriginal content resources and materials; networking among Native Studies and Native Language teachers; aboriginal curriculum modules for all compulsory English courses with inclusion of aboriginal authors; module on treaty rights in Civics courses;

Student Supports: These aspects of the project include: Later literacy supports for Grades 7 and 8 in four schools - one on one educational assistant support; transitions program (for students coming from reserves to an urban setting - it provides social emotional and academic support; role models, elder involvement with Grade 10 students to help them develop leadership; these students in turn become role models for partner elementary schools.

Parent engagement: These aspects of the project include: a parent/guardian advocacy program to help navigate the school system; there is a family connection component established in two elementary schools and expanding to a third. This will help parents be involved in their children's education - parents participate in cultural activities at the school; transportation tickets and free child care are provided. The program is receiving positive feedback from participating parents. It is run by Lakehead Adult Education Centre and this facilitates parents working on high school credits. A Family Connections resource guide has been development that includes sections on connections at home, with the school and in the community.

Research: Lakehead University has been selected to conduct research on the efficacy of the project.

Simcoe County
The official launch of the pilot took place on December 4, 2008 and was a highly successful community event. A First Nation Principal has been hired to oversee the project which involves two elementary and two secondary schools.

Training/Curriculum: Itinerant Resource Teachers have been hired to help build capacity among staff. They are assisting with: school resources that support Aboriginal perspectives including incorporation of First Nation Métis and Inuit content in Foods and Nutrition, English and Geography courses; staff professional development that includes learning re issues of Aboriginal self-esteem and identity based on work of Dr. Pamela Toulouse; resource materials for JK-8 and 9-10, development of a Native Studies course , resource kits, and First Nation Métis and Inuit student centres in the four pilot schools. A day exchange has been arranged between the pilot elementary schools and the First Nation community school for Grade 6 youth. Through the board's relationship with the Aboriginal teacher education program at York University, teacher candidate placements are being made available in the pilot schools.

Student Supports: Staff to provide direct support to students have been hired. Child and Youth Workers address academic, social and cultural needs of Firs Nation, Métis and Inuit students; they work with community agencies and families to coordinate support services, liaise between school home and community social service agencies; offer coaching sessions to support student achievement and implementation of IEP goals and plans. Response from students to the availability of this resource has been very positive.

Parent Engagement: Since the original launch, there has been a marked increase in family participation in open house evenings at the pilot schools. Comments from parents on the initiatives undertaken in the schools have been very supportive. There is a high comfort level in the relationships among the school community, parents and students. Elders and other speakers have been invited to talking circles in all pilot schools.

Research: A research group has been engaged to conduct focus groups covering a full range of issues. Parents are looking to the board for committed, intentional, long term planning. Next steps include a synthesis and analysis of activities in preparation for a community update on February 21st .

Toronto
The pilot project has been launched through a number of initiatives. November was TDSB's Aboriginal Education month - aboriginal artists and guest speakers were invited into schools and students participated in writing and art projects. There is now a a permanent principal position assigned to First Nation, Métis and Inuit programs.

Training/Curriculum: Teachers are working on units and resources to infuse aboriginal perspectives into the curriculum. Workshops are being conducted to help teachers use these resources. There are opportunities for localized professional development in schools with large First Nations populations and more generalized professional development is also available. Staff who have self-identified as First Nation, Métisor Inuit meet and work on leadership development. library resource materials have been purchased for specific school sites. The new Aboriginal Education Centre at the Board creates a visible presence where there are staff and a facility to deliver programs. The focus is on curriculum and student supports.

Student Supports: Data collection on self identification continues - there are some FNMI students in nearly every school. Among the supports available to students are: a portal project Student Academic Workplace that allows teachers to communicate with students online and students can videoconference with each other; through a partnership with York University students can earn joint HS and University credits; alternative credits have also been developed; mentoring by university students is available; writing and public speaking competitions have offered scholarships; a young women's circle has been operating successfully in the Board's South-West quadrant and another will begin in the North-East quadrant; work is underway in the area of restorative justice practices through a relationship established with Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto; a "This is My Community" project has been initiated with the Royal Ontario Museum.

Parent Engagement: Community and parent engagement across a large and dispersed population is supported through strengthening relationships with First Nations, Métis and Inuit organizations in the Toronto area. This part of the work builds on the experiences of the Native Learning Centre and the First Nations school of Toronto.

Research: A research plan is still being refined and a lead person for this work has been identified.

SHARING THE WORK OF THE PROJECT

A research team will develop a report that includes input from local researchers on the three pilot projects. The report will deal with the different starting points for each board in the pilot, examine elements of success in the strategies employed and illustrate the factors that contributed to success with a view to having clear information for other boards wishing to use these strategies.

Finally, there will be analysis of how the overall process, including the composition of the Steering Committee, contributed to successful projects that benefit First Nation, Métis and Inuit children living in urban areas.

For more information: Susan Cook, Policy & Communications Associate, ext.112; or Webmaster