Graduation gap closing

The Okanagan Skaha School District has made great strides in recent years closing the gap in graduation rates between aboriginal and non-aboriginal students.

New high-school completion data recently released show 83 per cent of all students finished Grade 12 last school year, compared to 76 per cent of aboriginals.

That gap, of seven per cent, has fallen significantly from 34 per cent in 2008/9 when aboriginal graduation in SD 67 was just 48 per cent.

“Most of the credit goes to the hard work of our teachers in the classrooms,” SD 67 board chair Bill Bidlake said, adding initiatives started a decade ago are starting to pay off as students reach Grade 12.

Bidlake says educators are targeting specific youth early, in elementary school, that are at a risk of not graduating.

Penticton Indian Band director of education Kathy Pierre spoke highly of the work SD 67 and the province has done to improve aboriginal graduation rates, but noted the positive statistical trends have likely been padded by an increase in self-identifying Metis students that may not be visibly aboriginal.

She says Metis students now make up the largest portion of identified aboriginal students in SD 67.

“That’s a group of people that probably were not in the mix 15 years ago,” she said.

Regardless, Pierre says they have seen improvements in the graduation rates of on and off-reserve PIB students in the past decade, attributing that to the SD 67 AbEd team and aboriginal content courses now offered.

The Outma Sqilx’w Cultural School on the PIB reserve has been operating since 2011, taking students up to Grade 8.

Pierre says the aboriginal programming at the school goes a long ways towards helping the kids “see themselves in the curriculum.”

“You see kids coming out healthier and feeling a lot more confident in themselves and who they are as a First Nations child,” she said. “Then when they transition to public schools, there has been great supports to welcome them.”

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