Student Voice and Aboriginal Worldviews – Two Guest Writers

I’m pleased to welcome two guest writers to this edition of One91.  Elizabeth Schulz is a FLESS student who has been activity involved with Nechako Lakes Student Voice for the last two years.  At the last gathering of these student leaders, they wanted to find a way to share their work with others in the school district.  Elizabeth agreed to write a piece for One91…thanks Elizabeth!

Our second guest is Calvin Desmarais, District Principal of Aboriginal Education.  I’ve had the pleasure of working with Calvin for the last 20+ years and appreciate the credibility and passion (and humour) that he brings to his work.  Thanks for agreeing (even though there was some arm twisting) to share Calvin.

Student Voice

We are students creating positive change, collaborating to build an even better and brighter future for our district.

Two years ago the SD91 Board of Education was interested in a student-based structure that provided feedback on behalf of students. Soon after, a group of 9 students from FLESS, LDSS, NVSS and FSJSS came together with our vice-principals to studentvoice_newlogoshare our school experiences, to gain a greater understanding of the great things happening in our schools and to talk about the issues students face in our schools. A Student Voice emerged.

We came up with a list of areas we wanted to look into: communication, racism, performing arts, student recognition, equitable personalized education, bullying, extra-curricular engagement and collaboration.  As a group, we decided to listen to the voice of students from across the district. Firstly, we conducted online, anonymous surveys in our schools asking general questions regarding students’ school experiences.  The three big topics that came out of this survey were bullying and eliminating racism, communication and school engagement.  Next, we conducted interviews at each high school to delve deeper into the issues affecting students.  Students from each grade from each school were interviewed regarding their own high school experience with relation to these issues.  Data was then collected, summarized and analyzed.  It was interesting to note that there were common themes for each grade. For example, most grade 12 students reported that they felt more connected with their peer group and bullying was not really a big issue whereas grade 8 students felt that bullying was affecting many students in their school. It was clear that sports were a big part of the schools in our district and was mentioned in almost every interview. In addition, at NVSS and LDSS, the performing arts were prevalent, leadership was notable at FLESS and student travel opportunities were highlighted at FSJSS. Communication was a common issue and students reported that communication was ineffective. Students felt they were not always aware of when events like dances and large sporting events occurred. The results in this survey also raised concerns regarding bullying.

All four schools reported issues with cyber-bullying and it was evident that they were not aware of the effects and main_logoconsequences of cyber-bullying. From these results Student Voice started looking into what could be done about this. This year we are starting a new project to give the students in our district more information and awareness about social media. We will connect with resources from around our province and collaborate with our district to effectively communicate information to students.

Moving Forward – Aboriginal Worldviews and Perspectives in the Classroom

We have to start addressing the way that we teach our children about Aboriginal People….Justice Murray Sinclair

Over the course of 2014 and early 2015, the Ministry of Education, in partnership with School District 85 (Vancouver Island North),  hosted five focus sessions across the province looking at “Aboriginal Worldviews and Perspectives in the Classroom”.  The result of these conversations is summarized in the Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 7.01.19 PMresource Aboriginal Worldviews and Perspectives in the Classroom.

This excellent and important resource provides a framework (see below) that will help guide discussions among all of us as we look at ways of implementing BC’s new curriculum.

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 7.21.04 PM

As many of you may be aware, in June of 2014, SD 91’s Board of Education passed policy No. 600.3 titled Aboriginal Education and the regulations associated with the policy.  The introduction to the policy document summarizes the Board’s motivation for creating the document:

The Board of Education, School District No. 91 (Nechako Lakes), recognizes Aboriginal nations within the district. It serves a diverse population and is committed to making education meaningful for, responsive to and inclusive of Canada’s cultural diversity. The Board believes a relevant and positive learning experience is necessary in order to maximize the educational success of Aboriginal students. The Board also believes that all students and district employees should learn about Aboriginal peoples, cultures, values, beliefs, languages, traditions and history using local resources whenever possible.

I was recently interviewed by the media regarding a Ministry press release related to the Moving Forward document.  You can find the Omineca Express article here.   In attempting to share SD 91 stories with Vivian, our local reporter, I was reminded about the power of story.  Can you describe an example of story you shared with your colleagues or students that became a THE-POWER-OF-STORY-300x225pathway for learning?  The power of story aligns with aboriginal ways of knowing and so spending some time in finding and sharing stories will help us move forward.

A story that I would like to share relates to how a small change can have a powerful impact.

The creation of policy 600.3 has helped spur many of us to verbally recognize the traditional territories on which our schools operate. At one school, two hereditary chiefs drummed and sang a welcome song at the opening assembly.  As they were singing the traditional welcome song some students in the audience were quietly singing along.  At another school the traditional territory was acknowledged and it was evident by looking and watching some of the students and seeing their reaction the recognition was an important part of the assembly.

The recognition of traditional territory is a beginning in the journey to understand what is meant when we include Aboriginal worldviews as perspectives in learning.  It represents a change in practice which came from a change in policy which came from a change in thinking.  This change in thinking points to the importance of understanding Aboriginal Worldviews and Perspectives.

The last word….

Thank you again to Elizabeth and Calvin for contributing to One91.  Meaningful discussion and discourse are vital to learning organizations and so I would ask that if you have a thought / comment / question to share, please do so within the One91 platform.  Happy November!


  1. An excellent contribution, Elizabeth. You have clearly presented the history and focus of Student Voice. I commend you and the rest of the Student Voice team on your dedication to listening to what other students in our District are experiencing and making the commitment to bring their opinions and suggestions forward.
    Ms. Soffel

  2. Thank-you for sharing what has been going on with Student Voice over the past two years. It sounds like your group has collected a lot of valuable information and is great to hear that you are working on a project, which will help with one of the common issues students are dealing with at all of our high schools. Has the data you collected been shared with the schools? I look forward to hearing more about the social media project and seeing the plans that your group makes get into the schools and to the students. Will someone from Student Voice continue to share the progress of your project?

  3. Thank you for sharing the Student Voice survey results. I am glad to hear that your group is working on concerns that our students have and you are putting a plan together.
    The grade 12 leadership students at FLESS did an inquiry project last year. Their question was If a student leadership team focuses on planning and implementing activities and events that promote student connections, will students’ sense of belonging to the school increase? If you would like, we could share our results with Student Voice and Student Voice could share their results with the FLESS Leadership group. That way we could all work together on a project.
    I look forward to hearing more about your project around cyber-bullying.
    Keep up the great work, everyone!!!

  4. Elizabeth, thanks for sharing about the way Student Voice has been been progressing. Myself and other members of the school board are very excited to see how students are so engaged in making a difference for all the learners in our schools. I was interested to see the results of your survey, it would be interesting to see similar surveys conducted in the elementary schools and see if there were some connections. I’m very interested to see the ideas you come up with to more effectively communicate with students. Thanks to all the students involved for giving up your time and putting so much effort into this initiative. I know that coming to board meetings may seem like the least interesting part of being involved with Student Voice, but we as a board really value having a student perspective at the table, and you bring a great energy with you when you come.
    Calvin, thanks for sharing about the impact that a small but important act like recognizing traditional territory can have. It shows us how often the little things that show honour and respect can start to break down barriers. It will be interesting to see what other things we as a district can do in the future to encourage all of our students to feel honoured and appreciated.

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