Learning Alternatives SD#68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith

By September 17, 20192018-2019 Case Study

School Name: Learning Alternatives

School District: SD#68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith

Inquiry Team Members: Julie Ludwinowski: Julie.ludwinowski@sd68.bc.ca, Brett Hancock: bhancock@sd68.bc.ca

Inquiry Team Contact Email: Julie.Ludwinowski@sd68.bc.ca

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE

Grade Levels: Secondary (8-12)

Curricular Area(s): Not applicable

Focus Addressed: Aboriginal understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Experiential learning, First Peoples Principles of Learning, Growth mindset, Self-regulation, Social and emotional learning

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? What does Reconciliation in Action look like to an Alternate Student?

Scanning: Background:
Syeyutsus, a Hul’q’umi’num word for walking in two worlds, can be described as living and honouring the teachings of the land and first peoples, while navigating the ever-changing complexities of today’s world. Also described as finding a balance between the traditional way of living and the contemporary lifestyle.

At Learning Alternatives (LA), our school population is made up of students who struggled with being successful in mainstream school for various reasons (i.e. social anxiety, depression, addictions, family dynamics, chronic non attendance, limited self regulation skill sets, difficulty with emotions) which eventually led them to Learning Alternatives. When asking students at the beginning of the year to name two adults in a school setting that believes they will be a success in life, the majority of them couldn’t name anyone nor could they articulate a direction in which they want to go in life; many of them believed that couldn’t do school nor academics.

It’s common knowledge that Indigenous students are statistically less likely to graduate than Non-Indigenous students. The majority of our students at LA are Indigenous; we have the highest per capita ratio of Indigenous students in our district – living on and off the reserve.

The shape of my inquiry started to look at Reconciliation in Action – what does it look like to an individual, school, community and corporations. Students were able to state the residential schools were “bad news” and discuss how the genocide of indigenous cultural has impacted indigenous peoples yet were not able to articulate nor demonstrate what Reconciliation actually means to them [both indigenous and non indigenous students].

Back to the drawing board – my inquiry question was too big….what can we do to assist LA students to move towards being able to answer questions 1 & 2 with confidence while working towards the Reconciliation as a whole; especially in light of the government’s 99 Calls of Action legislation as well as the worldly adoption of the UNDRIP. So, I reflected further. The original inquiry was too large. I needed to refocus it. It developed into “What does Reconciliation in Action look like to an Alternative Student?”

Focus: What does Reconciliation in Action look like to an Alternate Student?
Through the rich learning and teaching of Independence, Mastery, Belonging, and Generosity [Circle of Courage], we believe students will redefine and demonstrate “Reconciliation in Action” by reconciling:
* with self with increased self worth/value
* with the Land & Culture through increased global competence
* with others through fostering healthy relationships

We focused on the disconnect between how students did in mainstream, based on their progress in all domains (Emotional, Social, Physical, Spiritual Health) and academically to how they are feeling/doing now based on attitude, self reflections, academic progress through rich learning experiences embracing Global Competence [small group, off site opportunities, turning students into leaders, cultural shares w/ Elders & Ally in a safe supportive place, mixed media options] while incorporating “First Peoples Principles of Learning” and the “Circle of Courage” as a guiding framework.

Hunch: Learning Alternatives (LA) is a school that reflects its name….creating innovative and experiential learning opportunities while being grounded in the fundamentals of building healthy relationships. We, as LA teachers, strategically plan lessons and create opportunities for students to be authentically challenged in all domains of the Circle of Courage; I specifically used cultural elder teachings, staff’s giftings, and sharing of appropriate vulnerabilities to help students build trusting student relationships; hunch – once students started to reconcile with themselves, they can reconcile with others while building their self esteem to pursue academics.

For example: a group of female students [both indigenous and non indigenous] learned an Ojibway Women’s Empowerment Song I was taught – these students, who would of never done any public speaking before, eventually shared the song with the Community Cousins at a local university as well as [in prompt to] went up in front of over 125 people and expressed that they would like to honour the guests for coming to the unveiling of the craving by singing the song and asked me to join; talk about walking the walk of vulnerability – as I had shared with them that teaching them that song in a small group was me expressing my vulnerability as singing a traditional song is something I have kept to myself as singing out loud is vulnerability to me. They called me out with them and we over came our fears together in a public form.

New Professional Learning: Elder Teachings & Mentorship
Circle of Courage Platform
First Peoples Principals of Learning
Brené Brown – “the Power of Vulnerability”
Teacher mentorship with experienced growth mindsets
Consistent on going wrap around team approach with staff [including CYC, EA, ] Reconciliation legislation – 99 Calls of Action; UNDRIP
Supportive and Encouraging Administration

Taking Action: Challenging the students outside of their comfort zone, lead students to even participate in various lessons/activities such as the following:

Emotional Freedom Technique – learning to self regulate by identifying when the Limbic system [which controls emotional response to memory] is in control of their actions rather then the cortex [which controls rational thought]; a technique to help self regulate while working on the trauma based brain in order to engage rational thought; series of tapping on acupressure points, eye movement, and sound to calm the limbic system to engage the cortex.

Cultural Sharing & Elder Chats – Learning traditional teachings [how to cope with life’s situations and relations] through narrative story telling/ songs while learning protocols when engaging with elders as well as other adults in a positive way; learning socialization and how to speak to others with respect and dignity while still have that grandparent family feel.

Food – if you feed them, they will come! Although food can be expensive, sharing a meal together is cross culture as well as socially engaging; started off with feeding them, then asked for help, students started to help in the kitchen and even helped prepare and clean up with minimal encouragement; most of our students never even sat and ate with their family – in just a few months, one student [with extreme social anxiety and depression, social isolation], learned how to cook a meal, practiced using his voice and expressed his desire to cook for his family and implemented a meal sharing at home, on Family Day, as he wanted to create the same family vibe that happens at school at home.

Traditional Songs and Round dance and Intergenerational Learning- learning to sing and dance to celebrate cultural diversity; see above about vulnerability; dancing made people laugh while working on physical fitness- students had to hold hands while doing a round dance -which was uncomfortable for many – but continued to move forward as the foundational protocols from elder chats made an easier transition into dance; later, students were encouraged and taken to an elementary school to share their learnings with others younger students.

Smudging & Cedar brushing & tree petting – cultural teachings which help with stress and anxiety to help reconcile with self and inner negative thoughts while engaging with their environment.

Giving back – students gave back to others through actions – [i.e. volunteering at a senior’s home, washing staffs’ cars, making tea for staff when they were sick]

Social Justice issues – students were given a platform for expressing themselves – having a voice which in turn increased their written output as they had to blog their responses as a large group – no grade separation [99 calls of action, LNG -impact on animal migration/ environmental impact, electric cars]; Podcast: https://anchor.fm/alternatevoices – “What does it mean to be an Alternative student? Alternate Voices – Discussion forum w/ Alt Students – Student led reflect their current/lived experiences; what led them to alt

Archery, Kayaking & regular body breaks – challenging students at physical activities in which they may not of been exposed to before; a) archery – requiring listening skills and safety protocols to adhere to in order to participate – learning to self regulate, listen and get out of their comfort zone while developing a skill towards potential competition especially sport and or hunting possibilities; b) kayaking – again learning water safety while engaging in social physical activity with others; c) body breaks – 3-4 times a day students participate in volleyball, basketball, walks, runs, yoga.

Checking: Student responses from this year:

14 yrs – male student
1. Then – Hoodie
2. Now – No Hoodie…Enough said

19 yrs – Female student
1. Then – Didn’t care about myself, put myself in high risk situations; didn’t see a future
2. Now – learning my self-worth as a strong Heiltsuk (Bella Bella) Indigenous woman of influence, Smudging to clear my mind to think, see, hear, and say good things, caring for myself by living a healthy lifestyle involving nutrition & body breaks; graduating and employed w/ a path paved with goals towards further school.

18 yrs – Male student
1. Then – Unmotivated, unproductive and suffering with addiction, accepting complacency in a restrictive job with no advancement
2. Now – I am a proud Kalhoose (Cortes Is) & Stzuminus Indigenous Male breaking down the “Rez Kid” stereotypes – Cedar Bushing to remind me of my grandmother’s teachings and remove the bad juju – I’m clean, educated and pursuing post-secondary education.

Checking & Evidence:
Measuring our growth
* Student, parent, outside agency feedback, reflections, in all domains
* SMART goals set and achieved by students
* Academic progress towards course completion
* Active participation in sessions/lessons & attendance
* Regular debriefs of student progress, STB meetings, Sr. Debrief
Note – this year was the highest graduation rate of indigenous students, per capita, in our district [a collaborative approach of various spiral inquiries as well as programs and teachers under the Learning Alternatives Umbrella; not just the results of this particular inquiry.

Reflections/Advice: Things I am adding to my teaching practice:
* Increase rich learning – small group off site, turning students into leaders, Cultural shares w/ elders, passport style completion
* Social Justice Discussion/Lessons – Use of social media resources daily – google classroom, blogging, podcasts – on various issues – personal development, Health & Wellness in all domains


Do not be afraid to show/express your own [school appropriate] vulnerabilities as well as share how you over come them – it is an essential pivoting point. This population can sniff out authenticity and people who genuinely care about them. If you’re not afraid to show vulnerability, then they won’t either. Understanding and reconciling with self, through building healthy relationships, becomes the platform for them to know that they can achieve success even in school – an area in which they struggled all their lives; creating lessons and opportunities under each of the areas of the circle of courage regularly help build relationships.

By “restoring friendly relations” [reconciling with self – finding out who you are in order to find your path and people], students become courageous and success follows; success will look different for each student.


Hay ce:p qa to my students for the honour of guiding & witnessing you develop resiliency through the fire of Adversity while connecting to traditional teachings and the land.

Hay ce:p qa to Learning Alternatives Staff for the privilege of paddling with you on our journey of supporting our students.

#morethanschool … we are a family

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