Saturday, January 21, 2017 'It's a happy place now': Literacy rates on Manitoba First Nation soar

'It's a happy place now': Literacy rates on Manitoba First Nation soar
Waywayseecappo First Nation credits improved literacy scores to working with Park West School Division
By Meagan Fiddler
January 16, 2017

Six years after a Manitoba First Nation partnered with a neighbouring school division, student literacy rates have dramatically increased. It's a change even the students embrace.

"It was much easier than what we were doing before," Grade 9 student Twyla Mecas said, "The way they taught the classes and the group activities, it helped me be more social."

"It was good," Leighton Heroux, also in Grade 9, echoed. "The teachers were fun."

Heroux and Mecas now go to Major Pratt School in Russell, Man. But they both attended elementary school in nearby Waywayseecappo when the Park West School Division and the First Nation formed a partnership.

The student say the smaller class sizes, one of the results of that partnership, helped them learn.

In November 2010, only three per cent of of Grades 1 to 4 students in Waywayseecappo, about 300 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, were at or above grade level literacy rates. As of June 2016, 47 per cent met that standard.

"It's a happy place now," said Colleen Clearsky, Waywayseecappo's education director, adding that students across the board are showing positive results.

All 500 students from junior kindergarten to Grade 12, and even adult education, have benefited, she said. Teachers are less stressed and there are fewer behavioural issues to deal with.

"The accomplishments are the children's. They are the ones that are making this work."

VLT revenues top up federal funding

Clearsky said the partnership has increased professional development and given teachers access to speech and language therapists and psychologists. Waywayseecappo has been able to retain teachers for longer because they're a part of the same collective agreement with the same salary and benefits as teachers in the neighbouring school division, she said.

"We used to have so many teachers come in and in a couple of years they would be gone, because the provincial school divisions were getting a lot more funding than we were," Clearsky said.

When the agreement was signed, Waywayseecappo increased education funding to match what provincially-funded students received. The federal government provides $7,200 per student per year.

The First Nation has been supplementing that with $3,690 per student per year from revenue generated by 70 VLT machines in the community. That's allowed for smaller classroom sizes and the hiring of more education assistants.

Teachers share, learn from each other

The partnership also means literacy specialist Louise Langevin splits her time equally between Waywayseecappo and the Park West School Division. Langevin supports teachers and supplies them with new literacy programs. She models different in-class strategies and can also co-teach alongside regular teachers.

"It was a lot of work, a big investment for those teachers." Langevin said. "It enabled them to do a lot more with the [professional development] they were now able to partake in. Teachers talking to teachers within the school division, that's such a powerful form of PD," she said.

Langevin said literacy rates for Grades 5 to 8 are now being collected to see if the trend continues into the later grades.

"There's a lot of time spent with our students today, to teach them the proper way so we have more graduates, so we can become competitive in the education field," Chief Murray Clearsky said.

"One day I guess you'll see greater results by our people, by our children, which will make me very proud," he added.

Waywayseecappo has plans to hold an education conference in the near future for other Manitoba First Nations who are interested in setting up a similar partnerships, Clearsky said.

Park West and Waywayseecappo just recently signed a new agreement to extend the partnership for another three years.


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