Monday, April 18, 2011

Vancouver's Aboriginal Focus School Forum Report Released!

The Vancouver School Board has released a report titled Reporting on the Vancouver School District, January 2011 Aboriginal Education Forums.  Compiling and synthesizing the comments and opinions of the forums, the report was written by Dr. Jo-ann Archibald and research assistants Allyson Raynor & Ramona Big Head of the University of British Columbia.  Find the Report here.
The essence is supportive of the Choice school, although I note that they are now using the better term Aboriginal Focus school.

At any rate, I am still very intrigued at the idea.

Below, I have cut and pasted the essentials of the Executive summary:

participants indicated: (1) support for

establishing a new school with an Aboriginal

focus; (2) support for a larger school model

that addresses K-12; (3) that the new

school be one of choice; and (4) that the

new school be open to all interested

students in the Vancouver School District

and that Aboriginal students be given

priority. The goals of the school that the

Forum participants articulated were that the

school should:

a. strive for excellence in which students

are confident, respectful, critical thinkers

and engaged learners;

b. focus on quality education through

Aboriginal worldviews, knowledge,

culture, and values;

c. maintain high expectations for student

learning and success;

d. value cultural diversity;

e. develop a welcoming, culturally safe, and

inclusive school environment; and

f. engage parents and community groups in

school planning and decision-making.

The framework for the Aboriginal focused

school is discussed using a wholistic lens,

which addresses the spiritual, emotional,

physical and intellectual components/needs

of the students, teachers, school, and

community. Forum participants, for

example, wanted: the school to include

Aboriginal ceremonies, the teachers to

develop meaningful and supportive learning

relationships with the students, the

community to be engaged in the

development of the school structure and

policies, and the students to experience

learning shaped by Aboriginal content and

ways of knowing.

The one component of the new school that

was repeatedly underscored by Forum

participants was the need to hire excellent,

effective, innovative and caring teachers.

Specifically these ideal teachers:

• develop effective learning

relationships with students,

recognize students’ talents and


• demonstrate care and patience

toward students, listen intently;

• have high expectations of students

and challenge them to do their best;

• have knowledge, experience, and

commitment for using Aboriginal

Knowledge in pedagogy and

curriculum, understand the impact

of colonization on Aboriginal

people, and use strategies to

decolonize education;

• are experts in subject areas and use

varied pedagogy; and

• are aware and knowledgeable of

urban Aboriginal contexts.

In the development of this school, however,

the VSB needs to be knowledgeable and

respectful of the concerns that the Forum

participants voiced during the consultation


Four of the more prominent

concerns centered on the following issues:

1) the fear of segregation and racism; 2) the

worry that this school would not encourage

academic excellence; 3) the concern that

the grade range of the school will be too

narrow; and 4) the apprehension that the

systemic barriers within the VSB will not

allow the new school to have the flexibility

to meet the students’ needs in the best way


Despite these concerns however, the time

is right to be bold and take action to start a

new school with an Aboriginal focus. In

following Aboriginal oral tradition, we

would tell others that the January 2011

Aboriginal Education Forums resembled a

feast where we were fed extremely well

with ideas and reminders (see Figure 1) of

what is important for educational and

school success; how Aboriginal Knowledge,

values, and culture can effectively shape

learning and teaching; and how parents and

Aboriginal community members can work

in partnership with the Vancouver School

Board to offer education that is meaningful,

inclusive, and excellent.


  1. Thanks Robert. You probably already know my question... How is VSB ensuring that every child who wants to attend this school, is able to attend? Is transportation provided for those who live far away? Also, why are the pedagogical requirements of this school not an expectation at all schools in the province (as these would benefit ALL students in BC). How is the VSB going to go around seniority to ensure that they hire the teachers that are required?

    Love to hear ur thoughts.

  2. Excellent questions Chris. The first I can't answer, as I have no idea what the process will be regarding planning around this project if this school is to go forward (something that hasn't been decided yet). I understand the logistics will be complicated and I do not know the details of Vancouver or the challenges in that city.
    I agree that all the pedagogical requirements should be requirements in all schools as I do believe that they would benefit all students (which is why it will be an open and inclusive school, if I understand correctly). That is a philosophical consideration that the province of BC needs to have in relation to our education system. Unfortunately, I fear that the province is going in the opposite direction with regard to Aboriginal education as evidenced by our district's decision to cancel the First Nations kindergarten in favour of the full-day kindergarten, something that appears to be repeating throughout the province. Langley just announced that they are cancelling their very successful EAGLE program and I have heard of other Ab Ed programs being marginalized or downsized throughout the province.
    As the province and the Teachers'Federation has signed a letter of understanding regarding Employment Equity, the seniority issues can be side-stepped with local agreements and the pursuit of a joint Teachers' association/ school board application for a human rights exemption. Our district did, briefly, engage around EE but they fell apart, if you recall my presentation at the Collaborative (I can explain my understanding of the breakdown in person if you wish, although it is only my own opinion).
    As we have discussed, particularly in relation to your excellent commentary on the Wejr Board, we are in a situation where we are considering an idealized set of circumstances, which will probably not exist when and if it is on the ground. At the same time, while we have seen successes there are many challenges that exist and the urban experience is one that needs to be considered. This may be the best option to try and I hope that they have the wherewithal to plan appropriately and with proper support to ensure that this works, should they decide to go forward with it. In reality, it will probably not have everything it needs and will suffer growing pains and struggle with inequitable conditions but I do want to hold onto the potential and the possibility for a little while.

  3. I hope that every child that wants to attend is provided with the access to pursue that desire. I also hope that the pedagogical model in this school becomes th standard for others to follow... It's too bad that this is a hope and not a reality... Yet.

    You would like what Rod Allen (superintendent of achievement for BC) said today: the First Nation communities have been using personalized learning with their children the whole time... We are just jumping on board now.

    If more leaders and policy makers would just shut up and listen, maybe instead of figuring out how to increase success of Aboriginal Students in our western schools, we can learn from some if the best teachers out there - those in our communities.