Shuswap Middle School SD#83 North Okanagan-Shuswap

School Name: Shuswap Middle School

School District: SD#83 North Okanagan-Shuswap

Inquiry Team Members: Anne Tenning:
Jaime Russell:
Sandra Major:
Theresa Johnson:
Kaeli Hawrys:

Inquiry Team Contact Email:

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE Transitions (focus on Indigenous learner transitions)

Grade Levels: Secondary (8-12)

Curricular Area(s): Applied Design, skills & Technology, Physical & Health Education, Social Studies, Other: First Nations perspective and cultural activities

Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Community-based learning, Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Differentiated instruction, Experiential learning, First Peoples Principles of Learning, Flexible learning, Growth mindset, Inclusion and inclusive instructional strategies, Indigenous pedagogy, Inquiry-based learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning, Social and emotional learning, Transitions

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Can we better prepare Indigenous students in grade 8 at SMS before they make the transition to Jackson for grade 9 (and be successful in secondary, and feel a better sense of resilience and belonging)?

Scanning: We started by surveying our students to see if they see these principles alive and thriving in our school as a start. Building an awareness of what this concept is and how students can connect it to their own identity is critical. If we could incorporate greater principles based on the Aboriginal Ways of Knowing and Being, could we then foster a greater sense of belonging that would increase graduate rates?

Many students said their cultural learning came from activities we hosted at the school. Some students could relate what we do here to what they experience in their Indigenous community events. Others said the things we do here remind them of their Indigenous family members, some of whom they haven’t been able to see lately with Covid. Many students said the activities helped them to feel connected to their culture and we used the Grade 8 Health and Wellness conference to get feedback again. It was important for us to keep checking in to see how the learning was landing and our efforts/projects were being received. We also met as a team on a monthly basis to check-in on a professional level.

Focus: We selected SMS because Indigenous students transition into this school for grade 6, and they transition out at the end of grade 8 to attend a Jr. Secondary for grade 9/10 and then a Sr. Secondary for grade 11/12. All of these transitions create inherent vulnerabilities that become apparent in secondary when some students really start struggling in school, and potentially leave school – as demonstrated in our grade-to-grade transition rates and graduation rates.

We also wondered the effect of integrating the Indigenous principles of learning at a greater level, through peer mentorship and community involvement and support in the education system; would these factors influence our Indigenous student’s success in academics and sense of belonging to the school community?

Hunch: Yes, we think if we ask grade 9’s how prepared they felt, what they wish they would have known, etc. We feel a survey or feedback sheet could accomplish this. How and when would it be delivered?

We started by surveying our students to see if they see these principles alive and thriving in our school. Building an awareness of what this concept is and how students can connect it to their own identity is critical. Our hunch was that if we could incorporate greater principles based on the Aboriginal Ways of Knowing and Being, then a greater sense of belonging could be fostered that would hopefully increase graduate rates.

We wondered what percentage of students look forward/feel prepared to going to Jackson, compared to feeling worried/nervous/uncertain about this transition.

New Professional Learning: Some members of our team took the Ripple Effect of Resiliency self-paced course with Monique Gray Smith. We also worked through her book with a Grade 7 class that ended the year with a reconciliation-based Secwepemc language project around the school, complete with QR codes for students to hear the language.

Some members of our team participated in the Strong Minds Strong Kids mental health training. We followed this up with a 6-week Resilience group of selected Grade 8 Indigenous learners and joined other grade 8 students from another school site. This focused on resiliency strategies and peer connection to aid in the upcoming transition.

We also interviewed past students that are in high school or now graduated to gain further insight and alter our approach if necessary. (We have an Indigenous grad panel that was recoded as part of the Indigenous in-service day on Nov. 20, 2020)

We have either initiated or participated in several community-based projects in which students have been active participants: Xqwiyelltsem Soup hut (SMS initiative), Secwepemc landmarks (community participants), Fishing program (SMS initiative), painting workshops and school based cultural activities (collaborative) with outside organizations. As professionals on the frontline, we have been revising and collecting feedback through classroom forums on a regular basis to check in on engagement and effectiveness of programs (e.g. soup hut, fishing, and painting workshops). The landmark program involves collaboration and planning across high schools, colleges, and at the community level.

Taking Action & Checking led to further projects such as the Grade 8 Heath and Wellness conference. This involved 200 Indigenous and non-Indigenous Grade 8’s, participating in a conference based on Indigenous principles of wellness. We used the opportunity to collect student reflections on this type of learning. The feedback was awesome! Kids commented on feeling calm, the value in connecting with nature, and the hopefulness they felt when knowledge keepers shared their personal journeys. It was a very validating day for our students and for us as professionals when reading the feedback.

Taking Action:
– Arrange planning and check-in days once a month.
– Do the activities based on the “Hunches” and reflect.
– Do more of what is working and less of what isn’t.
– Check-in again.

As Indigenous Education workers, Kaeli and I had the direct line to cultural activities and the times slotted with students and in classrooms. It was a natural fit time-wise for us to execute the activities and do the planning. More often it was us reporting to the team and our supervising VP (Sandra), TRC ally teacher (Jaime), and District Principal of Indigenous Education (Anne), supporting us and offering insight. The whole process was very professionally validating.

We have a weekly schedule where we are in classrooms at least one block a week. Classes with higher numbers of Indigenous students get more time. This is when we will schedule specific cultural activities with teachers if requested, support our students academically, or offer an Indigenous perspective on the lessons. It’s inclusive learning for all when possible. Our room is also open every lunch except Wednesdays when we run a school community soup hut (and feed 200+students). The big idea is that we take care of the community. It’s been a First People’s teaching since time immemorial.

Re-evaluating has allowed us to focus on additional programming such as the Resiliency group, an 8-week cooking with culture program, and the Indigenous grade 8 conference (for all grade 8s), among other activities.

Schedule/plan, DO IT, report, Schedule/Plan, DO IT, report.
Allowing time for the above is important for everything to run and function well. It also ensures we are on focus and the activities are well supported by everyone.

Checking: This inquiry project has exceeded our expectations. We tended not to quantify with reports and documentation, but rather with reflection and round table discussion because so many of the activities and connections to learning were relational and experiential. The students can tell stories about the learning that has stuck with them. The evidence of their learning is out in the community (Secwepemc Landmarks), on the school walls (Language Project), through relationships (cooking program and resiliency program), and physically feeding them (Community Soup hut and daily Indigenous programming). Our time in classroom offers academic support and the above mentioned activities offer the social/emotional and cultural aspects. The reflection activities at the end of the year were meaningful way to gauge feedback/evidence.

Reflections/Advice: Be flexible and ambitious! Covid changed some of our transitional activities so we had to roll with the punches. It was a good exercise in modelling resilience to our students. Planning, doing the activity, and having reflection time afterward, are all equally valuable parts in collaborative projects.
The experience is worthwhile! Your school community will be more inclusive because of it. 🙂
Thank you for all the hard work Inquiry partners!

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