The Vernon School District has moved closer to signing the Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement.
In a recent presentation to the Vernon board of trustees, AEA board chair Jami Tonasket and vice chair Colleen Larson said this spring is the target for signing the agreement.
“There has been lots of work on this, but it feels good to be at this stage, and we are on target,” said Tonasket. “We have had community engagement discussions with our working group members. I am very comfortable we will get this AEA signed.”
An AEA is a working agreement between a school district, all local aboriginal communities and the Ministry of Education designed to enhance the educational achievement of aboriginal students.
Community engagement sessions have taken place to include schools, the Okanagan Indian Band, the First Nations Friendship Centre and the Vernon & District Métis Association.
“We have communicated to everyone that they may contact us — and some have — to provide more input,” said Tonasket. “We do understand that the community may need time to process and we are open to this.
“We continue to seek feedback within the aboriginal community. We invite parents to have their input — this is a living document and we want to continue to seek input.”
Community engagement has been a way to identify and express what success looks like for all aboriginal students, as a way of creating a community-driven and owned AEA and to reach beyond aboriginal students and community to increase knowledge and respect for aboriginal culture, language, territory and history.
Enhancement agreements highlight the importance of academic performance and stress the integral nature of aboriginal traditional culture and languages to aboriginal student development and success. Fundamental is the requirement that school districts provide strong programs on the culture of local aboriginal peoples on whose traditional territories the districts are located.
So far, the Aboriginal Education Committee has put a call out to more than 1,000 parents and guardians within the community, seeking their input.
“Jami and I feel like we have climbed a mountain and can see the end,” said Larson. “We are still sorting through the comments. What was exciting for us is that one group looked at a sense of belonging as being most important while another looked at aboriginal content and history. But for each group, the emerging theme was relationships.”
Themes identified by both district schools and the aboriginal community will be sorted by the working group, with progress continuously shared with all partners.
School board chair Kelly Smith said the board is looking forward to seeing the work of the Aboriginal Enhancement Working Group (AEWG).
“Jami Tonasket and Colleen Larson are meeting with administrators, teachers, parents, students, elders and community members, gathering their voices, opinions, advice and knowledge to ensure continued success for students who identify aboriginal ancestry in School District 22,” she said.
Tonasket and Larson are currently developing a draft plan with the help of Colleen Hanna from the Ministry of Education and the AEWG members.
“An enhancement agreement is considered to be a living document that can be revisited whenever need arises. It will be reviewed on a yearly basis,” said Smith.