Recognizing the importance of education to improving lifelong opportunities, the Government of Ontario released Ontario’s “New Approach to Aboriginal Affairs”, including the “Ontario First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework.”
In this framework, the Ministry of Education outlines its vision for Aboriginal learners. “First Nations, Métis and Inuit students in Ontario will have the knowledge, skills, and confidence they need to successfully complete their elementary and secondary education or training and/or to enter the workforce. They will have the traditional and contemporary knowledge, skills, and attitudes required to be socially contributive, politically active, and economically prosperous citizens of the world.”
As the largest school board in Northern Ontario, with a significant Aboriginal population, Rainbow District School Board has strong partnerships with the Aboriginal community, including a First Nations Advisory Committee and at our Board table through First Nations Trustee, Grace Fox. (Trustee Fox also plays a significant role at the provincial level as the First Nations Director with the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association.) Together, we are developing and implementing strategies to further support First Nation, Métis and Inuit learners in our schools.
Rainbow District School Board is committed to improving achievement among First Nations, Métis and Inuit students and to closing the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students in literacy and numeracy, retention of students in school, graduation rates, and advancement to postsecondary studies.
We have already implemented a voluntary self-identification survey where we asked students to share their ancestry with us. Beginning in 2008, we will invite students to identify who they are as part of the registration process. With this information, we will be better able to offer support where it might be needed. We will also be able to track important data to ensure that our efforts are making a difference.
We have also begun building bridges toward cultural understanding through professional learning for teachers and support staff. By developing an awareness of Aboriginal culture, values and traditions, we hope to build an understanding of the need to infuse Aboriginal cultures, histories and perspectives into curriculum and into school life.
In order to achieve success, it is essential that First Nations, Métis and Inuit students be engaged and feel welcome in school, and that they see themselves and their cultures in the curriculum and in the school community. Acknowledging and responding to the unique learning styles of Aboriginal students is also critical.
With funding from the Ministry of Education and ongoing support from our Aboriginal partners, Rainbow District School Board is expanding its support for Aboriginal learners in significant ways. Key personnel will provide leadership in this area, including a principal responsible for First Nation, Métis and Inuit education. Project leaders, Ojibwe language teachers and support workers will also be hired.
In addition to building awareness and providing resources for teachers, we will recruit Aboriginal role models to work with Aboriginal youth, develop transition plans for students, expand our community outreach and further support Native Studies courses and Ojibwe Language courses in our schools. We not only want First Nation, Métis and Inuit students to achieve success, we also want all students in Rainbow Schools to gain a better understanding and appreciation for Aboriginal cultures, histories and perspectives.
Public education is the very foundation of a democratic, prosperous, humane, just and respectful society. When we give students every opportunity to maximize their potential and fulfill their aspirations, we secure our future and the future of generations to come.