Central Okanagan school board prepared for new Indigenous grad requirement

Indigenous courses already in place to meet requirement in SD 23

Back in January 2014, then school district superintendent Hugh Gloster signed what was the second Central Okanagan School District Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement, with the goal over the next five years to improve the graduation rate of Indigenous students. (File photo)

Central Okanagan Public Schools is optimistic it is one step ahead of a pending new graduation requirement for B.C. students to take an Indigenous-focused course.

While the ministry of education recently announced the course requirement for the 2023-24 school year, the Central Okanagan School District already has existing courses in place developed with the participation and assistance of the Westbank First Nation and Syilx Indigenous community.

Terry Beaudry, deputy superintendent of Okanagan Public Schools, said the school district recently made a presentation to the ministry to see the district’s existing courses on Indigenous art, Okanagan language and leadership and culture be granted grad requirement status.

Beaudry, joined by Jasmine Lemon, acting district vice-principal, Indigenous Education, discussed the new graduation requirement with the school board education and student services committee on Wednesday (April 20).

Beaudry, who has championed the cause for inclusion of Indigenous culture-related courses in the Central Okanagan school curriculum dating back more than 20 years, said the provincial grad mandate is a dream come true for her, and one already with a solid foundation here that began with the creation of the Indigenous academy of learning at Mount Boucherie Secondary, an initiative that is being picked up by other secondary schools in the district due to the positive response from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

Lemon said the intent of the provincial initiative is for school districts to provide a one-semester course that will count four credits towards graduation.

“The collaboration with Indigenous stakeholders is already well established here that is being requested by the ministry to create these courses,” Lemon said.

Beaudry noted the timeline is presenting some challenges given the province has set a deadline for course inclusion for the 2023-24 school year.

At this stage, that means current Grade 10 students will be called upon to complete the course requirement to graduate.

Current Grade 11 and 12 students will be encouraged to take what courses are offered but it won’t be a graduation requirement for them.

Trustee Wayne Broughton noted at the April 13 school board meeting he would like to see the requirement pushed back to the 2024-25 school year, because Grade 10 students are currently making their course choice options to meet their grad and post-secondary requirement needs and there is no Indigenous-focused grad credit course currently in place.

Beaudry told the committee the delay would be helpful, to give an opportunity for all school districts to give the thought and collaboration with their local Indigenous communities to develop relevant courses.

And she said for the Central Okanagan, having to create new courses beyond what the school district has already developed will require more consultation, staff training and student “voice and choice” involvement.

The committee adopted a resolution to be passed on to the board a letter be sent to the ministry of education requesting further resources be made available to meet the Indigenous graduation requirement.

Trustee Moyra Baxter said asking for a course implementation delay in the letter is likely not to make much headway with ministry officials.

“This is going to happen…and we need to support our students with this as best as we can,” Baxter said.

READ MORE: Agreement to enhance Indigenous education in Central Okanagan

READ MORE: Central Okanagan schools outline education plan for Indigenous learners