Grade 6 students learn how to carve. (Contributed)

Grade 6 students learn how to carve. (Contributed)

More aboriginal students graduating in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows

District way ahead of the provincial average

The graduation rate for aboriginal students in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District has shot up well above the provincial average.

The rate is up from 69.9 per cent two years ago to 83.5 per cent for 2016-2017, said Diane Graves, the district principal of aboriginal education.

“I was ecstatic,” said Graves when she saw the stats. “I know we’ve been working hard, and we were hopeful our numbers were increasing.”

The rate is within five per cent of that for non-aboriginal students, she added, “and that is our mandate – to close the gap.”

The overall graduation rate is 87.5 per cent in School District No. 42, and 84 per cent is the provincial average.

The 83.5 per cent rate is well up from the provincial average of 65.9 per cent for aboriginal students. That is a concerning rate, and it is the reason the province funds supports for First Nations students.

Graves heads a staff of 17 aboriginal support workers and five aboriginal resource teachers. They work with more than 1,200 students in the district.

Each district has its own strategy and practices to help aboriginal students through the school system, and Graves said the local school district has a unique approach.

“It isn’t one secret,” she said.

But one of the overarching goals is to create a sense of belonging and school connection.

“If kids feel like they are represented, and they have a voice, they are more engaged,” said Graves.

She credits a close working relationship with the Katzie and Kwantlen First Nations, as well as the Fraser Valley Metis Association.

“We are working really closely with them,” she said.

Because of their work, students feel a greater sense of pride.

The number of students who identify as First Nations has risen from about 1,000 to 1,243 this year.

“It has gone up sizably,” said Graves.

“One: We’re a growing district, and two: Our district has worked hard to have people identifying as aboriginal feel safe and included and proud.”

There are cultural activities for aboriginal students, whether it be beading or building a Metis Red River Cart. They are targeted for kids with aboriginal ancestry, but any student who is interested can take part.

Many schools have now erected traditional welcome poles, and often students are involved in the design or carving.

“There’s pride, there’s ownership, and there’s a sense of ‘being part of it,’” said Graves.

The aboriginal education staff also pay particular attention to student needs during times of transition, such as from elementary into high school.

Graves said the Aboriginal Education staff make these students their focus, but they aren’t the only ones deserving credit for the impressive grad rates.

“It really is a team effort. You don’t have those kind of great results without it being a team effort.”