Nurturing Capacity: Building Community Success

High School Graduation Coach Program Evaluation

Topic: Retention / Attendance, Stay in School, Student Engagement, Integrate Indigenous and Western Knowledge, Culturally Responsive
Grade: Grades 9-12
Capacity Affiliation: First Nations, Metis, Inuit


Sean Lessard

Executive Summary

High School Graduation Coach Program (HSGCP) has been implemented with success in a variety of contexts. First founded in the state of Georgia, USA, the HSGCP successfully increased the high school graduation rate of African American students. The program was adapted to meet the needs of Indigenous students in South Dakota and then again to meet the needs of urban FNMI students in Edmonton.

The program, adopted by Edmonton Catholic Schools and championed by Pam Sparklingeyes, Program Manager of Aboriginal Learning Services, centres around the creation of a full-time graduation coach position at the school and a space for FNMI students to meet with this coach, tutors, and other students. When the HSGCP was introduced at St. Joseph High School in Edmonton, graduation rates of Indigenous students increased from 14.9% to 60.4%.

Prior to the implementation of the HSGCP, Edmonton Catholic Schools had created the Braided Journeys Program. The Braided Journeys Program (BJP) is intended to support First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI) youth to become leaders of character, vision, and action. FNMI youth are provided multi-component, culturally-based programs that challenge their creativity, build on their skill set, and increase their support network. In addition, youth have the opportunity to develop citizenship skills, thus, enhancing self-esteem and confidence. Participants also gain skills from a variety of cultural and leadership activities. HSGCP became a part of the Braided Journeys Program and was able to leverage not only the BJP’s material and infrastructure resources, but also human resources, allowing for a smoother introduction.

HSGCP has been implemented with success in a variety of contexts.  In 2009, Edmonton Catholic Schools established the High School Graduation Coach Program at St. Joseph High School in central Edmonton and this exemplar may serve as an Indigenous education support model for the establishment of future program sites. The program’s establishment at St. Joseph’s High School in Edmonton has helped to highlight its various benefits:
• Approximately 130 Secondary Indigenous students per year receive graduation coach services through the Braided Journeys Program at St. Josephs High School.
• Students come and go freely. Physically, the Braided Journeys Room is simple; the number of staff employed is minimal.
• Staff members are able to offer an innovative program that provides comprehensive, in school support for Indigenous students.
• The program offers students a home place in which they are able to feel a sense of belonging.
• The freedom to come and go as they please also enables them to take personal and social responsibility for their own learning.
• It is imperative to the program’s belief system to hire Indigenous people with various educational and post-secondary experiences to serve as mentors and, in this case, graduation coaches.

In order for students to realize these benefits, researchers have identified 6 key areas of focus:
• Relationships and Mentoring
• Transitions
• Culture
• Career Counselling
• Academics
• Parental Engagement

The program, even in its limited realm, has contributed to the marked improvement in Indigenous student results at St. Joseph’s High School; these improvements are supported by the following data markers:
• From 2008 through 2011 the program has increased FMNI graduation rates from 14.9 % to 60.4%.
• Estimated retention rate for the 2012/13 academic year is 85% (approximately).
• Anecdotal evidence from parents, coaches, and students support the paradigm altering abilities of the program.


Edmonton Catholic Schools First Nations, Métis and Inuit High School Graduation Coach Program

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