School Name: Pleasant Valley Elementary
School District: SD#68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith
Inquiry Team Members:Diane McGonigle: email@example.com, Dianne Benedict: firstname.lastname@example.org, Krista Endrizzi: email@example.com, Christine Angelucci: firstname.lastname@example.org, Erin Springford: email@example.com, Rachel Walls: firstname.lastname@example.org, Janice Scott: email@example.com
Inquiry Team Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Type of Inquiry: AESN (focus on Indigenous learners or Indigenous understandings)
Grade Levels: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7)
Curricular Area(s): Career Education, Other: Social-emotional and Core Competencies
Focus Addressed: Aboriginal understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Social and emotional learning, Other: Personal and cultural identity
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? What will be the impacts of a school wide heritage project on student development of positive personal and cultural identity?
Scanning: We have 60 students in our school who have Aboriginal ancestry ( 17.5 % of our population). We are in the process of asking our students the four questions. Last year, in preparation for Aboriginal Day, we asked our students about where they and their family were from in order to share the wide backgrounds of our Aboriginal students. Most students were not able to answer this question. In discussion with some parents, they know little about their background but want their children to know more. We want to support our families in this process. We also noted that many of our Aboriginal families are not visibly present in our building and, when they are, communication and discussion is minimal.
Focus: Our focus was to work towards all of our Aboriginal students having the core competency of a positive personal and cultural identity. This competency is described as “the awareness, understanding, and appreciation of all the facets that contribute to a healthy sense of oneself. It includes awareness and understanding of one’s family background, heritage(s), language(s), beliefs, and perspectives in a pluralistic society. Students who have a positive personal and cultural identity value their personal and cultural narratives, and understand how these shape their identity. Supported by a sense of self-worth, self-awareness, and positive identity, students become confident individuals who take satisfaction in who they are, and what they can do to contribute to their own well-being and to the well-being of their family, community, and society.” We would like our students and families to answer yes to these question from the Nature of Learning: Can learners articulate their individual strengths, interests and passions? Do learners believe that their prior knowledge and cultural backgrounds are respected, valued and utilized? Are they developing a sense of personal identity? We would also like our students and families to answer positively to these questions based on the First Peoples’ Principles of Learning: Do learners see what they are learning in school as contributing to their own well-being and to that of their families and communities? Are learners developing a deeper sense of place? Do they have the opportunity to learn from and with different generations? Are they developing a greater understanding of and appreciation for Indigenous knowledge? Are they exploring their own identity?
Hunch: We think that staff need to further explore the history of colonization and ideas around reconciliation to understand why there may be limited participation and involvement of some students and families due to continuing mistrust of the school system, along with an understanding of what they can do personally to make a difference for our Aboriginal students.
New Professional Learning: All staff were presented with a copy of the book ‘Speaking Our Truth’ by Monique Gray Smith and invited to participate in a book club where they discussed and reflected together on the impacts of colonization and what reconciliation meant to them. Our Aboriginal Education Assistant, Rachel Walls, led our CUPE staff in a separate book club with ‘Speaking Our Truth’ over a number of weeks during PLC time. Rachel also read the book in intermediate classrooms and Rachel and the classroom teachers led discussions with the students. Our staff (including our CUPE staff) participated in the ‘Blanket Exercise’ on a February professional development day. The sharing in the circle following the exercise was moving and profound . Other professional learning was via discussions and opportunities to listen and reflect on stories and sharing from Elder Brown (who teaches Hul’ qumi’ num at our school) and Aboriginal family members throughout the project. Our principal highlighted different articles and videos on reconciliation on our weekly Monday memos throughout the year.
Taking Action: We used the book ‘We are All Related: A Celebration of Our Cultural Heritage’ by Ashley Allen as a springboard to our heritage project. We sent home an information letter about the project along with a family tree, a memories sheet, and an envelope to collect photos and artifacts for the collage. Families had about three weeks to send in the info. Students shared the info with their teachers and classmates and then used this info to write a page similar to that in the ‘We are All Related’ book outlining where they are from, who the elders are in their family, special memories, and advice from an elder. They also created their collage page using photos and artifacts they brought in as well as pictures from the internet or their own drawings. Primary students had more help with some steps of the project (e.g. an adult or big buddy scribing and typing for them). For students who were unable to bring in info from their family, staff asked them questions, took photos of them (with siblings or cousins if they had them in the school), helped them find photos on the internet, and connected them to an Elder in the school if needed. When the projects were completed, we had a family night potluck to showcase the projects and an assembly and gallery walk the next day for those who were not able to make the potluck. We took photos of all of the projects and will be turning it into a book for in our school library.
Checking: The completed collages and projects were very individualized and students were able to reflect on the core competency of having a positive personal and cultural identity to varying degrees. The pride in some students finding out their heritage and sharing that with their teacher, classmates, and school community was heartwarming. The differences were huge to some students and minimal to others. Some students opened up and were so happy and proud to share about their family and where they come from, and other students found this challenging. This project really supported the first key question of naming two adults in this school who believe you will be a success in life. Feeling that the adults care about you and having a sense of belonging is key to risk taking and learning. We did not focus on the questions and need to do that as part of where we plan to go next.
Reflections/Advice: For many of our Aboriginal students, the families indicated that their heritage is Canadian so we did not find out their specific nation. We want to have this information so that we can highlight those different nations within our school and will gather that data next year. If we were to do the project over, we would find a way to gather that information. We intend to use the information garnered from this project along with what we will collect next year to continue to build that sense of belonging and valuing of your identity as well as to have the different nations reflected in our school. We also intend to use it along with the four key questions.
The open-endedness of the project and the freedom the work on their collage and share what is important to them were essential to the success of the project. As expected and planned for, staff did have to support some students in completing their projects (e.g. taking photos of students, interviewing students, scanning photos from home). There was some surprise amongst the staff in which families embraced the project – some going way beyond the scope of the project – and which families had difficulties with it. The project was difficult for some families to complete depending on what was happening for their family in the present as well as what had happened in the past. Staff need to be prepared to support students and families for whom the project is difficult and have a plan in advance (e.g. families with ministry involvement, estranged families, adopted children). We know that we continue to have work to do to create genuine connections with some of our families.
There is so much to learn about the families, where the students come from and how their history impacts them as a learner. Learning this takes time and this project is only a beginning.