The Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs sent a delegation to the Six Nations Band Council on Monday to report on the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) and to discuss the new Safe and Caring Schools Policy.
According to the EQAO website, “The EQAO’s tests measure student achievement in reading, writing and mathematics in relation to Ontario Curriculum expectations. The resulting data provide accountability and a gauge of quality in Ontario’s publicly funded education system. By providing this important evidence about learning, EQAO acts as a catalyst for increasing the success of Ontario students. Also in attendance were a few principals and district schoolteachers of a few of the elementary schools on Six Nations including, Emily C General and IL Thomas.
Before Dan Dunnigan, a representative for the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs could discuss the effectiveness of the EQAO, he was bombarded with questioning from several band councilors who were concerned about how testing is done in First Nations communities like Six Nations and whether or not the EQAO is formatted to fit First Nations school children. Dunnigan stated that it is more of a generic test that is formatted for every student in the province. Councillor Helen Miller told Dunnigan that the EQAO should be formatted to fit, “our own students.”
Principal of Emily C. General, Cathie Jamieson told council that the only students exempted from this testing are those of ‘exceptionality’, and with the consultation of the parents. Reva Bomberry, Principal at I.L.
Thomas School told council that some of her students are in a 50/50 program, meaning that they learn Cayuga or Mohawk half of the time they are in school. “By the time they reach Grade 6, they can only write English at a Grade 1 or 2 level,” said Bomberry.
Both Miller and Elected Chief Ava Hill, told Dunnigan that the EQA testing shouldn’t be applicable in (Six Nations) community. Dunnigan stated that most Six Nations students are in the B-C range, but ‘provincially speaking, off-reserve students are doing a lot better.’
Dunnigan stated that what on-reserve and off-reserve students do have in common, is difficulty in Math. When asked by Councillor Miller why ‘our students’ are not doing good in math, Dunnigan stated, “Teachers don’t feel comfortable teaching Math,” but went on to clarify it wasn’t a ‘teacher problem.’
Tom Deer, Language and Culture District teacher at Six Nations who also co-chairs the Safe and Caring Schools Policy spoke a bit about the policy that is being created by him and another co-chair Troy Hill. Deer explained that cultural knowledge being taught in all the schools on Six Nations is a big priority who also said that everything is in the ‘development stage right now as this is our first year.’
Deer explained the importance of “honouring our language, our ancestors and our people,” in the school curriculum. The policy itself, said Deer, has several components. “The policy itself is about creating a positive learning environment and addressing issues such as bullying and cyber-bullying prevention. Every member of the school community has a responsibility to maintain a safe and caring environment for both students and staff.”
“Character development will come from cultural values taught about our culture and our language. Such things as: using safe and caring words, to be thoughtful and respectful of others, and using our language as much as possible… When I go to the schools, I talk about the Friendship Belt, the Three Sisters Wampum Belt and the Five Nations Wampum Belt. I teach these in the schools to guide our behaviour and teach the kids what these wampum’s mean.”
Other policies in the making are a Code of Conduct, which according to Deer, “All those values I just spoke about just now (regarding teaching meanings of wampums), are the guide to the Code of Conduct for students to conduct themselves. But not just students, it’s for parents and teachers as well. The purpose of the Code of Conduct is to maintain an environment where we as Haudenosaunee can encourage the use of non-violence, discourage use of drugs and alcohol, prevent bullying and promote responsible citizenship.”
Elected Chief Ava Hill told the Education delegation that she plans on bringing high-profile motivational speakers to the schools to ‘address bullying, drugs and suicide.’