Dr. Jeffrey Wood
Conseil scolaire catholique Providence has made a conscious effort to embrace its Indigenous students – both in answer to the Calls to Action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and to create French language resources and programming to support its teachers and staff in this project. They used three main measures of success: whether there was an academic impact, whether there was an emotional impact and whether students were likely to identify as Indigenous. It is well documented that this final point has been known to increase school attainment levels and the overall well-being of children (Toulouse, 2016). The overwhelming evidence is that this shift in attitude and the inclusion of Indigenous programming have led to increased self-identification on the part of Indigenous families and to improved school performance for most Indigenous children in Conseil scolaire catholique Providence. By increasing awareness and the inclusion of Indigenous culture in schools, Conseil scolaire catholique Providence has made a significant difference in the lives of its Indigenous students.
The Conseil scolaire catholique Providence (CSCP) is the French language separate school board for all of southwestern Ontario. CSCP manages 30 schools and approximately 9,000 students. Geographically, the CSCP encompasses the Chatham-Kent, Essex, Grey, Lambton, Middlesex and Oxford regions. It serves Haudenosaunee, Aamjiwnaang, Anishinabek, Walpole Island, Chippewa, Oneida, Lenape, Munsee-Delawar, Moravian, and Métis students and their communities.
Conseil scolaire catholique Providence has risen to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action of the (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015) and has made a real effort to support the Indigenous students attending their schools.
Despite a dearth of written resources available in French, Conseil scolaire catholique Providence has introduced Indigenous content into their classrooms.
The board has also been intentional about sharing resources and traditions with teachers. They have developed relationships with different Indigenous communities and they have started exchange programs between elementary school students and First Nation Communities in Northern Ontario. They have worked hard to increase the awareness of their staff and students toward Indigenous culture, Indigenous ways of knowing and the history of residential schooling.
Across all measures evaluated, there is clear evidence that the programming changes that Conseil scolaire catholique Providence has made have resulted in real changes for the Indigenous students in their schools. Student EQAO reading scores have jumped from an average of 2.88 up to 3.35. In writing they have moved from 3 to 3.13, and in mathematics they have leapt from 2.74 to a 3.22 average. School attendance has improved. Most significantly, in 2013 (when this project started), there were 25 families who identified as Indigenous. As of the writing of this report, there are 120 who self-identified as Indigenous. There seems to be a real sense of pride in their culture felt on the part of the Indigenous students attending CSCP schools, which is translating into significantly improved school performance and Indigenous families clearly feel valued. The many small changes that the CSCP has undertaken, combined with the attitude of senior staff in taking an active interest in Indigenous culture is resulting in substantial results. The staff, in wanting to do the best for their Indigenous students, “the more that is shared in a positive light, the more benefits we see.” CSCP is sending a message of acceptance to their Indigenous students and families, and a message that they are serious about reconciliation. This message, because it is combined with real actions, has been received by their students and has made significant and real differences in their lives.