Program for Aboriginal youth in Coquitlam credited with keeping students in school

The Suwa
The Suwa'lkh school for Aboriginal youth in School District 43 has been credited with helping students stay in school longer and increasing the six-year-graduation rate for Aboriginal students. Shown here in a file photo are a teacher and student from the program's launch in 2011/12.
— image credit: FILE PHOTO

Coquitlam's new Suwa'lkh school for Aboriginal youth in Coquitlam is being credited for helping raise the graduation rate for students with First Nations backgrounds.

According to the Ministry of Education, the six-year graduation rate for Aboriginal students in School District 43 in 2012/13 jumped to 90% from 70% in 2011/2012 and was just shy of the rate for all students, which was 93%.

For Laurie Ebenal, who heads up the Suwa'lkh program, the secret to keeping Aboriginal students in school longer is incorporating Aboriginal culture and teaching in the curriculum.

“Since I started in the position four years ago, our vision has been to embed Aboriginal teachings into the curriculum so Aboriginal children and youth feel a sense of pride and identity within the system, as opposed to feeling that they are working outside of the system." Ebenal stated in a press release.

The program for Aboriginal students at-risk for leaving school early is located in Millside Centre on Brunette Avenue in Coquitlam and is self-paced, with outdoor studies and trips included.

In previous years, the six-year graduation rate for Aboriginal students in School District 43 fluctuated between 63% and 71%. (The six year graduation rate is the proportion of students meeting graduation requirements within six years of entering grade 8 and is tracked by the Ministry of Education, and includes migration in and out of the district.)

However, there is still much work to be done, according to the district's report on student achievement. The district wants to boost the Grade 3-9 reading comprehension and Grade 4-9 numeracy problem solving skills for Aboriginal students whose achievement is below the 95% target.

Also in the new year, SD43's Aboriginal Learning Centre will be moving from Central elementary school to new digs at the nearby Pitt River middle school in Port Coquitlam, where a $20 million new school is nearing completion.

Meanwhile, SD43 is touting six-year-completion rates for all its students, which are among the highest in the province.

According to the district, 82% of special needs students graduated within six years of Grade 8 last year, the highest rate in Metro Vancouver.

Other notable results include:

• 93% rate for all students, 2nd highest in B.C., highest in Metro,

• 96% rate for female students, the 4th highest in B.C., highest in Metro,

• 92% rate for male students, 2nd in B.C. highest in Metro.


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