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Following Their Voices initiative increasing Sask. indigenous graduation rates

Following Their Voices initiative increasing Sask. indigenous graduation rates
WATCH ABOVE: Following Their Voices, a Saskatchewan-made learning initiative, is having a positive impact on First Nations and Metis students across the province. Jacqueline Wilson reports.

For Grade 10 student Chantal Gamble, Mr. Bartsch has changed her outlook on school.

“He really knows how to engage with a student when he needs to and help them with strategies and different ways to improve learning.”

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Gamble goes to Constable Robin Cameron Education Complex on Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation, located about 100 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.

“We have that student teacher bond. We can laugh, joke around and take breaks. It’s really taken my stress levels lower. I’m actually enjoying math now,” Gamble explained.

Bartsch said the key to his success is relating school to real life experiences, which keeps students engaged.

“I think it’s really important that all teachers just be the best that they can and obviously building a relationship is part of that,” explained the high school math teacher.

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READ MORE: Sask. school division sees increase in indigenous student graduation rates

It’s all a part of the “Following Their Voices” initiative aimed at improving educational achievement and graduation rates for First Nations and Métis students by increasing engagement between staff and students.

“Students are being asked ‘what do you need to achieve success in school?’ And what they’re saying is that they need their teachers to care,” principal David O’Soup said.

The initiative began two years ago and was created in collaboration with Saskatchewan schools, First Nations and Métis organizations.

The program has been implemented in 16 provincial and indigenous schools across the province.

“All of our staff have approximately five to six students and if they run into them in the hall they can’t just pass them. They have stop and ask, ‘how are you doing?’ and ‘how was your hockey game last night?’ …  just something to engage in their life outside of school,” O’Soup said.

READ MORE: Aboriginal education gap costing Saskatchewan $1B yearly: report

Following their Voices is primarily funded by the provincial government, which has invested $3.1 million since it began, including $1.55 million this year. The federal government has also backed the project with $250,000.

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During the first year the initiative has led to a 10 per cent increase in the number of First Nations and Métis students attending classes at least 80 per cent of the time.

Average attendance also increased four per cent for First Nations and Métis Students and two per cent overall.

“Our goal is to have First Nations students graduate at or above the national average, which is around 75 per cent and we’re below 50 per cent right now. So we have a ways to go but we’re making progress and this is one of the ways we’re doing it,” Saskatchewan Education Minister Don Morgan said.

“The bottom line is that we want our kids to succeed and we’ll do whatever we can to have them succeed,” O’Soup said.