Only six students have so far registered with the Vancouver School Board’s new aboriginal school set to start in September.
The board wants to start the kindergarten to Grade 3 school on East Hastings at Victoria Drive with a minimum of 12 students, according to school district spokesman Kurt Heinrich.
The enrolment numbers were current as of last week. The board approved the aboriginal school’s September opening in April. Registration forms and brochures requesting registration by May 31 were distributed in May.
Don Fiddler, the board’s new district principal of aboriginal education, believes more parents will register their children in August.
“Many parents don’t register their students in school until later on in the summer, particularly aboriginal parents, so I think that’s part of the process,” he said. “The other part is there are still others waiting to see what’s going to happen.”
The aboriginal school will teach the same core subjects of math, reading and physical education as the regular kindergarten to Grade 7 school that will run alongside it at Sir William Macdonald elementary, but special attention will be paid to aboriginal learning, history, culture and values.
Students may be taught about aboriginal-focused activities such as lacrosse or canoeing in PE and aboriginal-focused books may be used for reading comprehension and cultural learning. The school operates on Coast Salish traditional territory and students will be taught about local indigenous culture and history.
Valerie Overgaard, associate superintendent of learning services, said in an email Friday that she believed but couldn’t confirm that all six enrolled students are aboriginal children from Macdonald. Forty-four of the approximately 70 students registered at Macdonald as of February were aboriginal, according to Fiddler.
The school board has advertised the school in newspaper ads, sent fliers and posters to the organizations involved in planning the school, emailed everyone who left contact information on related surveys and contacted parents who expressed interest in the school during aboriginal focus school forums. Macdonald school staff have hosted First Nations cultural events to connect with parents of prospective students.
The school board plans to intensify recruitment in August. Students can register until the end of September.
A school board survey about the aboriginal school in March found that of 304 respondents, 146 said they wouldn’t send their child to an aboriginal school (135 non-aboriginal, 11 aboriginal), 96 said they might (65 non-aboriginal, 31 aboriginal) and 59 said they would (37 aboriginal, 22 non-aboriginal).
Fiddler believes the recent hiring of a principal to run both the aboriginal school and Macdonald will convince more parents to enrol their children. The new principal is Vonnie Hutchinson who is Haida and Tsimshian. She served as a principal in Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii, was the director of aboriginal education for the Ministry of Education and has worked on aboriginal curriculum.
The board worked with the Metro Vancouver Aboriginal Executive Council, which represents more than 20 organizations providing services to aboriginal people, to help ensure the aboriginal school opens in 2012 as opposed to waiting another year, according to the board’s website section on the school. The board budgeted $100,000 for a co-ordinator for consultations, meetings, resources and promotion. It has budgeted $25,000 for start-up resources for the school.
None of the aboriginal groups or aboriginal-focused agencies contacted returned calls to the Courier.