Jaxon Orth says he began to take interest in school and improve his grades after he began to explore his heritage. Dustin Godfrey/Abbotsford News

Abby Schools

Belonging key to improving Indigenous grad rates

Recent grad Jaxon Orth says he only improved his grades after building a sense of self-identity

A key to Abbotsford’s success in bringing Indigenous school completion rates up to record levels is promoting self-identity and culture, according to a recent high school graduate.

The 2017/18 school year saw the highest Aboriginal completion rates on record for the Abbotsford School District, hitting 80 per cent for the first time. That’s a full 10 percentage points ahead of the provincial average, at 70 per cent, according to B.C. government statistics.

But it’s also still about five percentage points below the district-wide rate of 85 per cent.

RELATED: Abbotsford Indigenous, special needs students see record grad rates

RELATED: Abbotsford students beat B.C. on test scores, graduation rates in 2018

“Because I play hockey, there’s a lot of bullying for being First Nations, Aboriginal, Eastern Indian or black,” said Jaxon Orth, who graduated from Yale Secondary School in 2018.

He said the bullying makes it hard for Indigenous and other non-white students “coming out of your shell and accepting who you are.”

Orth says his attitude toward school drastically changed after he discovered more of his Aboriginal heritage. Until recently, Orth thought he was Métis, but just a few years ago his grandmother discovered the family’s heritage in the Kitsumkalum First Nation and Laxgiik (Eagle Clan) of the Tsimshian people.

“Beforehand … I’d want to sleep. I’d go home, I’d just go to my room and close the door,” Orth said. “I wouldn’t call it depressed, but it was kind of along those lines of just negative and leave me alone.”

Special needs and Aboriginal students fall behind
Infogram

Darlene MacDonald, district principal of the Aboriginal education program, says the research largely shows that Indigenous students tend to show improvements when they get to know their heritage, such as language and learning about their own self-identity.

“That’s where the new curriculum is a really great catalyst for us, and I think that’s why we’re seeing this improvement across the whole province, because we do have a platform, now, to bring that content into the school so that Aboriginal students have a greater sense of belonging there,” MacDonald said.

The school district also brings Indigenous elders in to talk about traumatic first-hand experiences with residential schools or the ’60s Scoop.

“Eye-opening is a good word for it,” Orth said.

He also pointed to a room dedicated to the Aboriginal education department on the second floor of Yale. There, students find a safe space to do homework, do crafts or eat lunch in peace. The room even has a therapy dog for those who may need the love of a furry friend.

“A lot of my time was spent up there,” Orth said. “I felt that it was a group of people that I can belong and I can hang out with and have everyday conversation with or have a conversation that I’ve wanted just one-on-one for emotional support or school support.”

The district has also taken a more active role in encouraging attendance among Indigenous students. Whereas previously the tendency was to suspend students for bad attendance, MacDonald said she recognizes that is counterproductive.

She said it’s also not productive to take a passive role when students stop attending, so the district has begun to meet with Aboriginal students struggling with attendance to talk about their personal barriers to attendance.

“Every student has a different scenario, and … could be related to issues of poverty or things they need to help their family with. It’s not just that they don’t want to come; there’s more to it,” MacDonald said.

Orth says he has noticed the difference since beginning to explore his heritage, and the positive effect it has had on his life showed in his report cards, as well.

“I noticed a difference in my grades and most importantly attitude. The way I go about life is a lot more different. I started wanting to learn more about my history, historical background, and more about my tribal [heritage] and stuff like that,” Orth said.

“I was a high- [to] mid-C average student, and last year I ended up on B honour rolls. I was up to high Bs in all my classes.”

Find more of our coverage on the Abbotsford School District here.

Report an error or send us your tips, photos and video.

Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

@dustinrgodfrey

Send Dustin an email.
Like the Abbotsford News on Facebook.
Follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

VIDEO: Merry and Bright at Abbotsford’s Sevenoaks Shopping Centre

Holiday celebration running at Abbotsford mall daily until Dec. 24

Identity confirmed of body found in torched vehicle in Abbotsford

Sukhdev Dhaliwal, 48, had rented the Chevy Tahoe before his death last month

UPDATED: Mission man dies at CP Rail yard in Coquitlam

Kirk Charles McLean had been working as a locomotive engineer and had 32 years of experience

AERIAL PHOTOS: See how Abbotsford changed between 2018 and 2019

City has undergone record amounts of development in recent years.

Christmas Seals campaign helps British Columbians breathe easier

One in five Canadians have lung disease such as COPD or asthma

B.C. woman charged in connection to stolen vehicle smash-up in Kamloops

Kersten Ina Peters was arrested in the Fraser Valley on Friday, Dec. 6

UPDATED: No survivors in Gabriola Island plane crash, says RCMP

The Island is located about five kilometres east of Vancouver Island

VIDEO: Harbour Air makes history with first electric aircraft test flight

Successful flight marks first of its kind in the world

The Grinch who Stole a Hedge: Security camera captures Chilliwack tree theft

RCMP arrives as person calmly walks away with tree in downtown area

Salmonella outbreak in Canada linked to rodents and snakes

92 cases of salmonella across six provinces, including B.C.

Meng Wanzhou wins right to more documents involving arrest at Vancouver airport

Defence lawyers allege the Huawei executive was unlawfully detained, searched and interrogated

Police say they’ve identified suspects in Bradley Kline homicide in Surrey

Kline, 26, was found dead at 7055 144A St. on Dec. 7, 2018

Truck with body inside found at bottom of lake near Kootenay ferry

Investigators believe no foul play is expected but are unsure how the vehicle ended up in the Arrow Lakes

Most Read