Ontario Friendship Centres Plan for Success in Education

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Meeting in Toronto brought people together from across Ontario
Meeting in Toronto brought people together from across Ontario
Meeting in Toronto brought people together from across Ontario
Meeting in Toronto brought people from Friendships Centres across the province together

Collaborative Commitment in Education For Urban Aboriginal Students

TORONTO – On November 12 and 13, colleagues in the OFIFC Alternative Secondary School Program (ASSP) in Friendship Centres gathered in Toronto to exchange ideas and information on the vital impact alternative school programs are having on Aboriginal students in Ontario.

Although more Aboriginal people are finishing high school now than eight years ago, using comparisons from the 2006 and 2011 Census the C.D. Howe Institute is reporting the overall dropout rate of Aboriginal students is still four times higher than the national average.

For a variety of reasons, not all Aboriginal students are having their education needs met through mainstream school systems.   Lack of accessibility, interest in programs, practical application, mental health challenges, family responsibilities and a lack of cultural supports are just a few of the obstacles Aboriginal students are confronted with which are not being consistently  met.   The Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (OFIFC) believes that providing alternative learning experiences with supports readily available for Aboriginal students, assists with increasing rates of completion.

In 1990, through a partnership between the OFIFC and the Ontario Ministry of Education, three alternative school pilot programs began at the N’Amerind Friendship Centre in London, the Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre and the N’Swakamok Friendship Centre in Sudbury.  Today, there are eleven school program sites across Ontario providing unique education opportunities for an average of 1000 students each year who want to be engaged in education but who have struggled with mainstream learning.

Through this unique partnership, District School Board teachers lead classroom instruction while ASSP Coordinators, hired by Friendship Centres, support students and build partnerships in the community for outreach and engagement purposes.   The partnership allows for a collaborative approach with the aim to maximize a student’s success by meeting the needs of those wanting to learn but who might require flexibility in the learning environment.

In the OFIFC ASSP programs, student’s needs are met by including a curriculum immersed in cultural teachings and supported by activities that are responsive and dynamic based on local needs, strengths and opportunities. By working from a Friendship Centre or other community based space, Aboriginal youth have combined resources from other programs that make tending to their education requirements easier, more manageable and more focused.

‘This program is full of creative educators who are really good at connecting with the community,’ says Kevin Reed, a Program Consultant on Aboriginal Education with the Limestone District School Board in Kingston.  ‘Aboriginal education can and is pushing the model of education forward’, Reed suggested.

Sylvia Maracle, the Executive Director of the OFIFC who developed the partnership and the program, believes this model is a framework of learning that if expanded could reach more urban Aboriginal students.  Says Maracle, ‘An accessible and open education system, delivered through alternative opportunities, is a strategic component in addressing higher than acceptable rates of Aboriginal students leaving the current system not because they want to but because at times they have little choice.’

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