Southlands Elementary SD#39 Vancouver

School Name: Southlands Elementary

School District: SD#39 Vancouver

Inquiry Team Members: Margaret Paxton
Joanna Wood
Christopher Lee
Alexandra de Montigny

Inquiry Team Contact Email:

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE

Grade Levels: Intermediate (4-7)

Curricular Area(s): Other: General student engagement in all curricular areas

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

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Our focus is on engaging all of our learners (grade 6/7) in Indigenous Cultural learning experiences, thereby increasing our own knowledge and comfort with both content and the skill of weaving First Peoples Principles of Learning into the curriculum.

Scanning: In our scanning over the past two years, we looked for evidence that our grade 6/7 students are engaged and interested in what they are learning. When we asked, “What are you learning,” we were given very subject-oriented answers. When we asked, “How is it going?” we got, “Good.” When we asked, “Where to next?” most answered, “I don’t know.” We saw students wandering during class, taking many trips to the washroom, going outside and hiding from staff, and many seemed thoroughly disinterested in completing any school work. Many students had poor attendance. However, when we asked, “Are there two or more people who care about you and know that you will be a success in life?” the answers were positive. Students listed teachers, support staff, the office assistant, the librarian and the principal, as people who cared. In the 2020 – 2021 school year, many of our Indigenous students chose to stay home the entire school year. We believe that they were the most vulnerable to begin with. Those who did attend school were much more engaged than in the previous year, perhaps because of the smaller classes and some changes in staff. Our staff participated in professional development around the BCTF First Peoples Principals of Learning, and in the District’s Indigenous Focus Day. Both were well-received and generated much discussion about our context.

Focus: Our small committee felt that if we were to provide more opportunities for students to learn about the Musqueam language and culture, as well as other Indigenous cultures, we would see more interest and engagement in our Indigenous students, and in all students.

Hunch: Our hunch was that our Indigenous students found school to be boring and irrelevant. They came to school for the socialization.

New Professional Learning: We participated in the BCTF Workshop: It generated a lot of site and context specific dialogue among staff members, but the presented could not answer many of our questions. The VSB Indigenous Focus Days have been impactful, leading to greater staff commitment, but still leaving us wondering, “How?”

Taking Action: This is a list of specific actions we took this year:

  • Orange Shirt Day, school-wide
  • Drum making with the Grade 6/7 classes, coached by VSB Indigenous Department member
  • Weaving, school-wide, with video instruction by a Squamish Elder
  • We wrote a letter to the Musqueam Education Department, requesting more cultural support
  • We met twice with Musqueam Language Dept. — once as a committee and then in a whole-staff meeting. We then purchased a set of hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ “alphabet cards and made a bulletin board display.
  • Th’owxiya: The Hungry Feast Dish Axis Theatre online play was booked and viewed by all classes
  • Ms Alexandra taught Métis beading to both classes. They all made poppy broaches for Remembrance Day (Alexandra is Métis)
  • We added many Indigenous titles to the library collection and discarded books about Indigenous people written by non-Indigenous
  • Grade 4/5 Classes Chose Reconciliation as a Unit of Inquiry
  • Fatty Legs Author, Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton, met with the classes by video
  • Place-based stories about Chief Joe Capilano read by grade 6/7’s
  • 215 ribbon, heart-shaped memorial on our fence created in response to the news about the children’s remains found in Kamloops at the site of the former residential school
  • VSB Healing Ceremony was watched by all classes following that news
  • Indigenous Allies and Leads – Margaret and Alexandra participated in monthly meetings
  • Maintained ongoing relationship with Gail Sparrow, who spoke to classes via Teams, made a recorded greeting for our Grade 7 Leaving Ceremony

Checking: We felt that our actions made a difference for students who were in attendance. They seemed happier, more engaged, and we were able to meet more needs with smaller classes. This however was a tarnished silver lining as we thought constantly about the students who remained at home. We did what we could to maintain contact and communication with families, but it was not enough.

Reflections/Advice: We learned that all students are hungry for learning about Indigenous language and culture. Next year, we want to continue to offer as many experiences as possible and try to build a stronger relationship with the Musqueam Education Department. We plan to revamp our school’s Resource Model to address the needs of the students who have missed over a year of school: by creating and open-area and safe drop-in zone, ensuing that our support is “push-in” rather than pull-out, and using ALL staff members as efficiently and effectively as possible to support students. We will also continue to reach out to families and communicate regularly, individualizing support and differentiating instruction.

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