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Vancouver Ponders Aboriginal Mini School

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Imagine attending high school in a foreign land where you do not understand the customs, and no one understands you. You feel isolated and lonely, and you don’t get anything out of the program.

Now imagine that you feel that way in what is supposedly your own country.

This, Vancouver education experts suspect, is part of what is making aboriginal youth drop out of high school in droves. To combat that sense of alienation, the Vancouver Board of Education held hearings this month to discuss establishing an aboriginal mini-school in hopes of keeping First Nations youth from ditching their education.

“It would be a school within a school that approaches curriculum through an aboriginal lens using aboriginal history (and) traditions, ” board chair Patti Bacchus told the news site Metro Vancouver.

"Our graduation rates are very flat, are very discouraging. We hear too often students saying, ‘I didn't belong, people didn't understand me,’ ” Bacchus said, according to CBC News.

The program would be launched by September 2012 for secondary-school students, the CBC said.

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Although some have blasted the idea as segregationist, others see the need for something more specialized for First Nations youth.

"I've been on a real fight to have my children educated with the same opportunities—to get an education—and I don't see that happening," said Ina Campbell, the parent of five, to the CBC. The existing education system is not reaching her children, she said.

The program has only been outlined in vague terms while the board seeks input from aboriginal leaders and community members. Lynda Gray, executive director of the Urban Native Youth Association, told the Vancouver weekly the Straight that any such program would absolutely need First Nations input.

She and other First Nations leaders also emphasized the need for inclusivity rather than exclusivity.

“As far as the native community is concerned, we believe that one of the considerations should be an actual magnet school that’s based on First Nations culture and traditions, but is not necessarily just restricted to First Nations students,” she told the Straight.

Educator and fillmaker Robert Genaille concurred on his blog, Where Are the Sheep?

“A key to both is the idea that it is open to anybody,” he wrote on Jan. 13. “I have always felt that aboriginal education is not just about educating aboriginal people but educating everybody. Indigenous epistemologies and pedagogies have a lot to offer if you are willing to take a look.”