Fort St James Secondary School SD#91 Nechako Lakes

I. General Information

School Name: Fort St James Secondary School

School District: SD#91 Nechako Lakes

Inquiry Team Members: Marnie Dinwoodie:, Britta Hanks:, Craig Houghton:, Shelley Leatherdale:, Deidre Houghton:, Kelley Inden:, Travis James:, Mitchell Johnston:, Marina Saulig:, Gary Soles:, Andrew Vogelsang:, Gretchen Vogelsang:

Inquiry Team Contact Email:

II. Inquiry Project Information

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE

Grade Levels Addressed Through Inquiry: Secondary (8-12)

Curricular Areas Addressed: Other: Cross-curricular

Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Experiential learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? What needs to change in order for our students to feel a strong sense of belonging and connectedness to the school community?

III. Spirals of Inquiry Details

Scanning: Our first scanning took place through attendance reports. Attendance in grades 8 and 9 needed a review. What was keeping our students from attending school? In what ways could educators and school communities enter into a conversation with parents and our Indigenous communities, so that we could find out what was preventing our students from reaching out to
peers, educators and creating a roadblock to entering the school building?

Focus: Small groups of students (8-10) were being counted in classrooms that were meant to have 28-30 students attending them. It was painfully apparent that our students were not attending school regularly. Teachers were confused and concerned about the large number of absences, while many students reported feeling anxious and stressed. Research showed that many of
these students had not attended school for almost 3 years with little interactions with their school communities.

We were hoping that by building relationships with our students, we would increase attendance and students’ feelings of self-efficacy.

Hunch: At the beginning, we believed that students had been discouraged from attending school by Covid fears, regard for their families, community circumstances or other family imposed reasons. We found that although this was true for some students, overall students had lost the habit of going to school, frequently played video games through the night, and created new communities of supportive friends through the video game communities — the majority of these students were not interested in returning to school. We did see a huge change in parent attitudes – from the early Fall semester believing their students would return on their own, to seeking help from the school and District team by early summer.

New Professional Learning: Many staff members were on the school Learning Team that met with Jo Chrona four times this
year, examining their own practices and pedagogies and taking a deep dive into those that would discourage learning, rather than encouraging participation. As well, Shelley and Craig attended Dr. Dustin Louies sessions and examined ways to lead decolonizing the school and its pedagogies. Most staff met once a month and reviewed current thinking (as researched by
individuals) on mass student absences, and ways to directly address attendance issues.

Taking Action: We have just started taking action – we are visiting Indigenous communities frequently, building relationships between Indigenous Educational Advisors and the school district. As well, we are frequently meeting with parents and when possible, students. The school conducted a phone program each morning – there was initial success but after a
while both parents and students stopped responding.

The Aboriginal Education worker offered Thursday afternoon sessions – no association at all with school curriculum other than story telling by an Elder, shared food, and a chance to talk with an Elder or an educator at school. There was some success with this, and a few students returned for a short while. A summer camp is being planned, with a wide range of educators and community members involved. We do not know if this will influence attendance yet. We have talked with individual students and parents, and are working on developing individual, independent school plans that will allow students to learn – and not from endless booklets and paperwork. We hope to see some successes with this.

Checking: We are too soon in our inquiry journey to know if we made a difference or not. We are on a
long journey.

Reflections/Advice: Start with the students first – allow them to lead the way. What would encourage students to attend school – provide those activities. It has taken a long time to get to this place – it will take a long time to ensure students are feeling encouraged and a sense of connectedness and belonging.