Aboriginal Inquiry: Lifting All Learners

An Impact Assessment of the Aboriginal Enhancement Schools Network (AESN)

4.4 The role of the AES Network in School District 10

Arrow Lakes School District has had an affiliation with the Network originating back to 2005 when they became a part of the inquiry-focused Network of Performance Based Schools (NPBS ) now called the Network of Innovation and Inquiry (NOII ). A three-year inquiry into the impact of Online Literature Circles (which included Aboriginal authors and texts) on student performance in Reading and Writing segued in 2011 into incorporating Aboriginal Literature Circles and Information Circles in First Nations 12, English Language Arts, and Social Studies classes at both the elementary and secondary level. During the 2010-2011 school year, educators in School District 10 were involved with seven NOII , AESN , and Healthy Schools projects across four of the five schools in the district. Additionally in 2010-2011, seven teachers based in four of the five schools were involved in district-based Aboriginal Education learning projects where Aboriginal education was woven into a wide range of curricula and across grade levels. In 2011-2012, 7 of 35 teachers in the district were involved in four NOII and AESN projects which showed improved student learning and engagement as evidenced through the application of the BC Ministry of Education Social Responsibility Performance Standards as well as the use of School District 68’s (Nanaimo) Aboriginal Understandings Learning Progression rubric. In May of 2012, 4 Arrow Lakes district teachers partnered with 6 schools/teachers in School District 51 (Boundary) to pilot an online Aboriginal Information Circles project – the success of which has called for expansion and research into its impact in the 2012-2013 school year. Three AESN projects in 2012-13 are connected to the Online Aboriginal Issues and Culture Information Circle.

Figure 2: AESN Projects in Arrow Lake School District

Year

Projects

Teachers involved

2007-2008

2008-2009

2009-2010

Online Literature Circles (NPBS ) which included Aboriginal texts

1 teacher in SD 10 partnering with teachers in SD 8, SD 41, and SD 20

2010-2011

Aboriginal Issues and Cultures Documentary Film Project

2 teachers (SD 10)

2011-2012

4 AESN , NOII projects including archery, ethno-botany, & Aboriginal film project

7 teachers

2012-2013

3 AESN projects, 3 NOII : Online Aboriginal education circles (circle of courage)

Ethno-botany (continued)

Archery (expanded to additional school)

Aboriginal carving

7 SD 10 teachers plus 19 other teachers in Boundary, Haida Gwai and Gold Trail districts

3 in 2 schools

3 in 3 schools

2 in 2 schools

Terry Taylor holds the positions of Arrow Lakes School District Literacy and Aboriginal Education Coordinator as well as District Principal of Learning. She described the seamlessness between Network based inquiry projects and inquiry based projects at the district level. In essence, the structural components of the AESN have been taken up by district personnel and woven into the work the district is doing around Aboriginal Education. As such, there “aren’t dividing lines, silos, between Network questions and the rest of the work, so what is evolving, is the links and crossovers and segues and bridges in between.”

As the above descriptions and summary of the projects taken on in Arrow Lakes illustrate, the AESN has been embraced in a big way by this small but dynamic school district, under the leadership of its Superintendent, Denise Perry and Terry Taylor, the district principal. This is made even more remarkable by the small size of the district level support staff; in a district with a small student population, district personnel must take up multiple roles and are stretched in many directions. For example, the Superintendent also serves as the Secretary Treasurer, and their District Principal of Learning, Terry Taylor, coordinates Aboriginal Education, Online and Distributed Learning, Professional Learning, Literacy, and Special Education. In addition to this she also was a .6 classroom teacher and school counselor up until January 2013.

Despite these pressures, what we learned during our visit to this school district was how closely knit and committed this small group of professionals are. In the sections that follow, we highlight some of the key themes that emerged during our focus group with AES Network members (5 individuals), our observation of their work during a Network meeting in which they shared their current inquiry work, as well as through individual interviews with the Superintendent, two school principals and the District Principal of Learning. These themes include: shifting community and school mindsets; experiential learning; cross-curricular integration; the importance of leadership; and catalysts for educational change.