Silverthorne Elementary SD#54 Bulkley Valley

By September 5, 20182017-18 Case Study

School Name: Silverthorne Elementary

School District: SD#54 Bulkley Valley

Inquiry Team Members:Julie Krall:, Tanya Margerm:, all staff members at Silverthorne Elementary

Inquiry Team Contact Email:

Type of Inquiry: AESN (focus on Indigenous learners or Indigenous understandings)

Grade Levels: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7)

Curricular Area(s): Applied Design, skills & Technology, Arts Education, Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Reading, Language Arts – Writing, Mathematics / Numeracy, Science, Social Studies

Focus Addressed: Aboriginal understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Land, Nature or Place-based learning

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Increasing our school-wide emphasis on recognizing and celebrating Witsuwiten culture will increase aboriginal students’ feelings of pride, acceptance and belonging which are necessary components of academic success.

Scanning: At the end of last year we conducted student surveys with all of our students and interviews with our vulnerable students, as well as randomly selected students. The survey and interview questions were guided by the Four Key questions for Learners and by our understanding a this point of the First Peoples Principles of Learning. The interview particularly gave us the necessary information to form our inquiry for this year.
The information gathered during the interviews allowed us to better understand that although most of our students thought they were cared for, they didn’t know for sure because adults didn’t always say it. We also learned that our students wanted more opportunities to learn about Witsuwiten culture, history and language, and that this should mostly be done in the form of hands-on activities like drumming, as well as connecting with the land by being outdoors. Our students also like learning about the language.

Focus: We noticed that although we have nearly 50% aboriginal students, we had very few opportunities in our school to learn about aboriginal language and culture. As all of our aboriginal students are living off reserve and often in foster care, they overall tended to have limited, or no information, about their own culture and traditions. We also noticed that many of our aboriginal students were not fully meeting expectations in all or most academic subject areas.
We were hoping that by increasing the amount of aboriginal learning in our school for both staff and students that we would see a higher level of confidence and engagement with our aboriginal students, and therefore improved academic success as well.

Hunch: Our hunch was that although we were physically taking care of our vulnerable aboriginal students by ensuring they had breakfast and lunch, clothing and caring, we were not modelling and valuing the things that were potentially most important to them. We were not connecting so much as educators, but as caretakers. This was not enough to get our students excited about their learning.

New Professional Learning: Auntie Doris, a Witsuwiten language teacher came twice to teach us Witsuwiten language. All members of staff and all students K-7 participated in the lessons. We use the everyday terms around the school and we play Simon Says in Witsuwiten at our weekly assemblies. We included new language for each season. This allowed us to connect our language learning to the seasonal learning we were doing throughout the year. We have the language posted around the school on the walls, as well teachers practice it in their classrooms.
We researched and ordered quality teaching resources and spent much of our book budget on ensuring that teachers and students had resources for learning and teaching. We purchased too many resources to list from Strong Nations, as well we purchased the Science First Peoples and the Indian Residential Schools and Reconciliation resources. We used the Learning, Knowing, Sharing resource as well as learning from many local aboriginal guest speakers.
Although teachers were still in the learning phase, they incorporated Witsuwiten cultural learning across all subject areas including writing, reading, science, social studies and hands-on learning such as making and decorating drums for our Traditional Drumming group.
Truth and Reconciliation resources were purchased to support the teaching in this area and the Calls to Action.

Taking Action: Silverthorne Traditional Drumming group (which is still in its infancy) – We increased the time and resources allocated to our drummers. Students were able to choose between drumming during class time, drumming at lunch and/or drumming with the performance group which practices more often.
Orange Shirt Day – Assembly organized by our Grade 7 students. This assembly was about introducing the idea of Truth and Reconciliation.
The Art of Listening – a school-wide project.
o We began with introducing the children to the art and stories of Roy Vickers. We looked at where he came from, how he learned and how he expresses himself now. We listened to his stories and developed our understanding through sketching.

o The traditional oral stories are a living history that is passed on through our children. Mel Bazil gave us the opportunity to learn the art of listening. The students practiced their sketching while listening to his stories to strengthen their understanding and their recall of these important lessons.
o We celebrated our learning with a wet felting art project that honoured the style of Roy Vikers. The children’s art is proudly displayed in a mural in the heart of our school, a place of story, the library. The strength of community is theirs for all to see.
• We hosted an Winter Outdoor Learning day where we played Witsuwiten games, demonstrations and learning from a trapper and did activities such as snow shoeing and making icecream.

Teachers routinely took their classes on fieldtrips connected to our inquiry. Fieldtrips included: ice fishing, snowshoeing, Sturgeon release, hatchery releases for both the Babine and Witsuwiten nations. As well as tours of the museum in Witset, and a visit to Roy Vickers’ home to see the new totem pole he is working on.
Although teachers were still in the learning phase, they incorporated Witsuwiten cultural learning across all subject areas including writing, reading, science, social studies and hands-on learning such as making and decorating drums for our Traditional Drumming group.
Staff and students use and practice Witsuwiten language throughout the school everyday. We also include Witsuwiten langauge on our Facebook site so that parents and communtiy can learn with us.

Checking: Student Interviews – We interviewed 28 students, 20 of whom were from our “Students to Watch” list, and 8 were randomly selected.
• 27 of the 28 were able to name an adult or adults who makes them know that they are cared about. They were able to explain the things the adult did that made them know that. Actions such as: helping when hurt, helping them work out problems, helping with their work,
• When asked how they liked to learn about the culture and history of the Witsuwiten people, all 28 students said that they liked active activities such as the drumming, wet-felting an image from Mel’s stories, button blankets and art/building projects. Several also said being outside in nature, survival skills and Witsuwiten language.
• The interviews were important because they gave us more specific information, and will help us plan our goals for the upcoming year. The interviews showed that students feel safe and cared for and that they can identify some of the things that adults do to make them feel that way.
Time Spent Engaged in Learning – Five of our most challenging students are now spending most of their time each day in small groups or in their classrooms rather than in the hallway or office.
Our Facebook page has been an unexpected source of data related to parent and family involvement with celebrating our learning about Witsuwiten culture, history and language. We have over 272 parents and community members following our page, and as a sample of a typical month, during the last 3 weeks of June we had 4053 engagements on our site, and 2437 people were reached.
Case studies –
Using the CR4AL model, each classroom teacher chose one aboriginal student from their class and closely tracked their learning and engagement throughout the year. We used the same guiding questions, as well as the DART or EPRA results, and other forms of achievement evidence specific to their classrooms. At the end of the year, each teacher completed a portfolio documenting the students’ learning journeys and their academic changes over the year.
• All eight students selected for the case studies showed improvement with their engagement with all aspects of their schooling. They all connected with the aboriginal activities and learning.
• Although every student showed improvement with their academic studies, it is hard to prove if this is due to normal growth throughout the year, or to the fact that they were more engaged in all aspects of their schooling, and particularly to activities and strategies involving aboriginal culture and language. It is important to note, that when given choice as to how to express learning in certain subject areas, many of the case study students chose to show aboriginal art or information.
• What was evident through the case studies was that teachers took a greater personal interest in better knowing and understanding some of our most challenging students. The relationships went deeper than showing caring, and moved into connecting with students over something they cared about. This model showed that when teachers value and respect a student’s culture, then the student can gain more confidence with their relationships with their teachers and other adults in the school and therefore engage more in their learning.

Reflections/Advice: Don’t be afraid to learn along side your students. Their engagement in their learning increases when they see staff taking risks and valuing learning about aboriginal culture and history.
We will use our survey, interview and case study evidence to plan our inquiry for next year.
Preliminary discussions are showing that teachers, staff and students are keen to continue with our learning about Witsuwiten culture, and that we could expand on the areas that engaged the students the most.
We will begin the year with a workshop for staff about the Calls to Action, and we will be planning on how we can address these as part of our school-wide plan including K-7.
We would like to continue on our journey of how to gather evidence to connect our students’ growing confidence and engagement at school with their academic success.

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