Ontario: Self ID policy aims to help aboriginal students

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Thu Jun 15 12:52:43 UTC 2006

>>From the Fort Francis Times,

Self ID policy aims to help aboriginal students
June 14, 2006

Melanie Bechard

    Both local school boards are adopting a new policy to help identify
aboriginal students and ensure they have every opportunity for success.
We know there is a gap between the achievement levels of aboriginal
students and non-aboriginal students, said Jack McMaster, education
director for the Rainy River District School Board.  We want to close that
gap, he vowed.  McMaster was talking to about a dozen parents, educators,
and aboriginal leaders at a public meeting in the Fort Frances High School
library Monday night.  Mary-Catherine Kelly, education director for the
Northwest Catholic District School Board, also was on hand for Monday
nights meeting.

    The two boards are introducing an aboriginal self-identification
policy, where students and parents can voluntarily identify themselves or
their children as either First Nation, Mtis, or Inuit students.  Its
really important people know its voluntary, Kelly stressed.  Once the
students have identified themselves, the boards then can look specifically
at the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO)  results for
aboriginal students to determine where they are succeeding and where they
need help.  Its a process that really is meant to give us an opportunity
to see how the kids are doing, Kelly said.

    Currently, the school boards have no way of identifying aboriginal
students, with the exception of students living on reserves, who attend
school on tuition agreements.  The boards have no way of identifying First
Nations students living off reserve or Mtis students, or of tracking their
success rates.  Now we use graduation and drop-out rates, and that takes
12-15 years, McMaster noted.  If we are able to identify as an aggregate
group our aboriginal students, we can see improvements in less than a
year, he added.

    James Leonard, the First Nations rep on the local public school board,
admitted he was skeptical when he first heard the proposal.  My immediate
thought was Here we go, getting into segregation and stereotypes, he
remarked. At first I was somewhat leery of the policy.  But after putting
a lot of thought into it, I could see the benefits far outweighing any
possible problems.  We need to know where our kids are right now, he
stressed.  The policy first was brought to the attention of local boards
in 2003 during a forum on aboriginal education in Thunder Bay.

    Since then, the Northern Aboriginal Education Circle (NAEC) and the
Northern Ontario Education Leaders (NOEL) formed a joint aboriginal
steering committee to put together a formal policy.  By knowing the
scores, we can intervene earlier in the students career, Kelly said.
While the main goal is to help identify problem areas and develop
education programs to address them, McMaster noted there is a possibility
of receiving additional funding for these programs.  In British Columbia,
where a similar program is in place, boards receive an additional $950 for
each student who self-identifies as aboriginal.

    In Ontario, the Ministry of Education provides $1,100 for every
identified ESL (English as a Second Language) studentthose who immigrate
to Canada from countries whose first language is not English.  The
Ministry of Education realized the ESL students were struggling, McMaster
explained.  In the last two years, provincial government funding for ESL
students has increased to $60 millionand their achievement scores have
doubled, he added.  Aboriginal students should have the support of the
Ministry of Education, McMaster said.  Both boards already offer programs
in later literacy and oral language to assist all students who need help,
but receive little or no targeted funding from the ministry to run them.

    Many schools also offer First Nations language programs, and Kelly
noted she recently attended a pow-wow at St. Michaels School here where
students were very enthusiastic in their participation.  There is a great
sense of culture and respect in our elementary schools, she said.  While
good work is being done, the new policy will help further improve the
success of aboriginal students.  I think this is a positive step of us,
Kelly said.  The long-term goals of the policy include improving the
retention and graduation rates of aboriginal students, and to ensure
learners are well-prepared to begin post-secondary studies or to enter the

    I certainly offer my support to the aboriginal self-identification
policy, said Gary Lipinski, chair of the Provisional Council of the Mtis
Nation of Ontario.  I dont think its right for society to sit back and let
any group fall behind.  There currently is no way of formally identifying
Mtis students. And as a result, those students may miss out on
opportunities, such as scholarships, because teachers and guidance
counsellors dont know they are eligible.  The data collected through the
self-identification also will give aboriginal leaders a tool to pressure
the governments to put increased resources where they need to be, he
added.  I appreciate the inclusion and the consultation thats taken place
with the boards, Lipinski added. Its long overdue.

    This September, every student and family of both boards will receive a
registration package which will include a pamphlet outlining the policy,
as well as a form with the students information.  Parents will be asked to
review the information, make any necessary changes, and, if desired, check
the box to identify the student as an aboriginal person.  These forms are
to be returned to the childs school.  Kelly stressed the data would be
secure, and only would be made available to teachers and principals to
enhance education programs.

   (Fort Frances Times)

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