Caleb Child

Sooke School District and First Nations sign new curriculum agreement

The document, known as Na’tsa’maht, is a five-year working agreement to improve the success of aboriginal students.

The beginning of a new age of education dawned at the T’Sou-ke Nation Community Hall in Sooke on Tuesday after a new aboriginal school curriculum was signed by local First Nations and Sooke School District officials.

The document, known as Na’tsa’maht, is a five-year working agreement created by the school district, local First Nations communities and the Education Ministry to improve the success of aboriginal students.

Over the year, the new curriculum will go through its introductory stages both for teachers and students, from kindergarten to Grade 12.

As the curriculum takes shape, so will its inclusion of each community’s distinctive First Nation groups, said David Strange, the school district’s assistant superintendent.

“Part of our history in the district has been looking at it as a whole, but then how do we bring in individual First Nations and trends of their background, their history, their languages, their culture?” he asked, adding this is part of the curriculum’s goal in the coming years.

Na’tsa’maht not only goes towards improving the quality of education for aboriginal students, but for all students in the district, said schools superintendent Jim Cambridge.

“We need to engage in our second curriculum. We need to make sure that all of our 9,000 students in the school district understand where we come from, where we live and how we got here,” he said.

“We need to help students recapture their lost languages.”

School district board chair Bob Phillips also expressed optimism for the new curriculum, calling it “a new beginning.”

“The theme is listening and understanding. This document will provide that support to understand how to begin again with aboriginal education, and that we must do this together,” Phillips said.

Most important, Na’tsa’maht is meant to become symbiotic with the existing school curriculum in a way where everyone can connect and understand.

“We want the curriculum to be natural, to make sense, to grow together,” said Kathleen King-Hunt, district principal for aboriginal education and early learning.

“In the Sooke School District, there is energy around aboriginal learning, and the enhancement agreement has brought up a lot of that authentic energy and interest.”

King-Hunt added school staff and students will focus on learning about the document this year with the support of a curriculum coordinator, and in its second year, they’ll be creating activities and initiatives to take it further.

The Sooke School District has 1,120 aboriginal students out of a total of about 9,200.

Many school districts in B.C. have such agreements, including Greater Victoria, Saanich and Gulf Islands.