Aboriginal graduation rates soaring in Cowichan

Top level educators at the Cowichan Valley district expressed delight this week that the number of aboriginal students graduating from high school has grown exponentially.

Schools superintendent Joe Rhodes reported the numbers to the school board session Wednesday, June 18.

"Five years ago we had 36 aboriginal students walk across the stage, of which probably 50 per cent of them were actual Dogwood students. The others received Evergreen certificates.

"This year we had 103 students who were eligible for graduation, with 98 of them Dogwoods. That’s worth doing cartwheels about," he said, and then credited Denise Augustine, district principal of aboriginal education and her team with the success.

She said that it’s been a team effort, with everyone pulling in the same direction.

"I think it’s a lot of people working really hard, paying attention and working together. I can’t say it’s one thing," she said.

"I know that finding ways to include and engage our aboriginal students has really been a conversation that’s going on all around the district now among teachers and administrators. It’s really good. Five years ago we had 36 grads that we were celebrating. And we were celebrating them. That was an increase even then. So, 103 this year is pretty spectacular. I’m pretty excited about it."

Another one of her reasons to celebrate is the determination of students to provide a great example.

If a student is the first in his or her family to graduate, it makes that connection to education even stronger, she said.

"It blazes a path for them and their families. And, in my conversations with our senior students, they really feel that responsibility, too. They have to get through because they feel a sense of responsibility to the younger family members."

Rhodes is looking at finding the exact source of the success.

"That’s what [Trustee] Mike [McKay] tasked me with. He said we need to dig in and determine what are we doing right. I can say, ‘Hat’s off to Denise and her staff!’ It’s phenomenal. It’s so positive. We’ve definitely got work to do but it’s a really positive trend."

Asked what he thought of VIU’s influence, Rhodes said, "I really believe it is positive. I believe that, with our growing partnerships with VIU, our kids see the possibilities. And the success they are seeing with some of the trades programs that VIU is running makes them believe in themselves, and say, ‘I am a university student.’ When you see 36 kids register for welding and 35 finish, it’s a really good news story.

"And still, for many families, this is the first high school graduate in the family. At the graduation ceremony at the Siem Lelum gym there were 300 community members there celebrating. It was a proud, proud day."