Closing the Achievement Gap for Ontario's First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Students

Blog Post created by teachontarioteam on Dec 14, 2015

bannock.jpgIn this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating the tremendous effort by school boards and schools across the province as they work to move the Ontario First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework into action.


What is Ontario’s First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Policy Framework?


In June 2005, the Ontario government released Ontario’s New Approach to Aboriginal Affairs which reflects a commitment by the government to help make Aboriginal communities healthy and prosperous. A big part of that commitment is the recognition of the importance of education in improving lifelong opportunities for First Nation, Métis, and Inuit children and youth.


Since June 2005, the government has been working with Indigenous leaders and organizations to improve the outcomes for Indigenous students because the Ministry of Education has committed to “improve achievement among First Nation, Métis, and Inuit students and to close the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students in the areas of literacy and numeracy, retention of students in school, graduation rates, and advancement to post secondary studies.” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2007)


To achieve those goals and help guide educators, in 2007 the Ministry released The Ontario First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework. An Aboriginal Education Strategy was also developed with initiatives that unite the Ministry, school boards and schools in working together to close the achievement gap between Indigenous students and all students in provincially funded schools.


In 2014, the Ontario First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework Implementation Plan was released to build on the Aboriginal Education Strategy and help further support the full implementation of the Framework by June 2016.


snowshoe.jpgWhat are the Goals Set Out in First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework?


To track the progress of implementation, the Ministry has outlined performance measures for school boards. These performance measures were rolled out in increments since 2007 to ensure that data is collected and the efficacy of each measurement is tested. Here are six examples of the 2013/2014 performance measures:

  • enhance the inclusion of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit students’

needs and experiences in board and school initiatives that promote

safe and accepting schools;

  • increase opportunities for the participation of First Nation, Métis,

and Inuit students in student voice, student engagement, and

peer-to-peer mentoring activities;

  • work in collaboration with community partners to identify and

address topics relevant to the health, including mental health, and

well-being of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit students;

  • increase opportunities for Native languages and Native studies

education, based on local demographics and student and community


  • focus on supporting successful transitions for First Nation, Métis,

and Inuit students;

  • continue to work with local First Nations to implement successful

Education Service Agreements and to support successful transitions

for First Nation students.


A solid foundation has been built since the release of the Framework in 2007, and school boards and schools across Ontario are building on that foundation by improving outcomes for Indigenous students and fostering understanding and acceptance in all students.


How are School Boards and Schools Meeting the Goals?

drumming.jpgThunder Bay Catholic District School Board and St. Ann School


For the past three years, the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board has been committed to supporting Indigenous learners reach their full potential and has made implementing the Framework a key priority.


Tesa Fiddler, from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug in Northwestern Ontario, is Thunder Bay CDSB’s First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Resource Teacher. She works with teachers and support staff in helping to infuse culturally relevant pedagogy in their classroom and subject areas. This includes offering authentic resources for teachers to use as well as co-teaching Indigenous content in classrooms.


An important part of Fiddler’s job is running professional learning opportunities for all staff in the district and conducting a workshop series that focuses on awareness training.


“The awareness training is so critical to the understanding of relationship building with our First Nation, Métis, and Inuit families,” says Fiddler. “Without understanding the history and current issues and successes, school staff might have difficulty working effectively with First Nation, Métis, and Inuit families.”


Recently Fiddler began working with St. Ann Elementary School in Thunder Bay to incorporate the Indigenous Knowledge Land-Based Learning Project. This project provides an opportunity for students and teachers to connect knowledge and learning with traditional Indigenous knowledge and culture.


grade 6 trap lines.jpgSt. Ann School welcomes students from over 16 different reserves in the North. Indigenous students make up 60% of the student population at the school, many of whom are facing unique challenges.  Land-based learning brings students back to the land, using traditional Indigenous knowledge of the land to feed into the curriculum.


“Being on the land is inclusive,” says Fiddler. “Land-based learning naturally develops environmental stewardship and character development. It easily connects with science and technology, math, language, history, and social studies.”


Just recently, the Grade 6 class at St. Ann’s went to a trapline for a full day excursion in the surrounding area of Thunder Bay. “We were out on the trapline and learning about habitats, history, harvesting methods, relationships and culture,” says Fiddler. “The students were so completely engaged.”


The land-based learning project is not the only First Nation, Métis, and Inuit education initiative at St. Ann. Principal Jan Bazaluk’s approach to learning is through well-being which includes honouring the students’ rich sense of oral storytelling and tradition. This is evident throughout the school, in classrooms, and through the programs offered to students and their families.


The well-being of the students is central to Bazaluk and the teachers at St. Ann because of the unique challenges faced by many of the students. Often the students come from remote reserves to go to school, and are sometimes away from their family. Parents who make the move with their children can find it difficult to find work in the city and struggle to make ends meet.


As a result, some students come to school hungry. To combat hunger and to teach students to cook, St. Ann has a cooking program where the students cook together and eat their creations. There is also an Indigenous after-school program that provides meals and culturally relevant crafts and activities.


grade 3 eqao and grade 6 eqao.jpg“It is amazing what can be accomplished with students when we are academically optimistic, have academic press, and are willing to change how we do things with students in order to meet their needs and impact success,” says Bazaluk. “Everything we do is constantly sprinkled with TLC. We are always mindful of the expectations around our well-being commitments for students at our school, as it is this part of school improvement that holds together and drives the academic achievement piece at St. Ann School.”


The implementation of these initiatives at St. Ann is driving student success and that success can be seen in the student achievement data. In 2011, 29% of Grade 3 students met the standard as measured by the EQAO in reading. In 2015, 88% of Grade 3 students met the standard in reading. In 2011, 57% of Grade 6 students met the standard as measured by the EQAO in math. In 2015, 74% of Grade 6 students met the standard in math.


“The Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board has done a great job of implementing the Framework and has worked hard at heightening knowledge, awareness, and sensitivity around Indigenous education," says Bazaluk.


"Over the last 5 years, St. Ann School has had a collective transformation in mindset around Indigenous education and meeting Indigenous learner needs. Change has proven to be progress, as the school has turned a corner, and is now currently making phenomenal student well-being and academic success gains. Despite the challenges, we push forward positively, relentlessly, and resiliently in order to ensure the equitable, inclusive, and subsequently effective implementation of curriculum for all learners.”


How are School Boards and Schools Meeting the Goals?

Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board and St. Marguerite d'Youville Secondary School


For schools with a large number of self-identified Indigenous learners, the success of Indigenous students would be a school priority. But how are school boards and schools with fewer Indigenous learners working to close the achievement gap?


Fostering an understanding and awareness of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit histories and perspectives in all students drives Indigenous student success. The awareness piece is what some boards are focusing efforts on in order to ensure equality and success for all learners.


The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board does not have a large number of self-identified Indigenous learners but is committed to addressing the lack of understanding of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit cultures, histories and perspectives.


students in north.jpgMary Ellen Gucciardi is the First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Studies Consultant for the Dufferin-Peel CDSB and she champions many initiatives to grow a collective understanding. Gucciardi collaborates with schools to provide professional learning and resources to help teachers and staff disseminate Indigenous cultures, histories, perspectives and culturally relevant pedagogy throughout the curriculum. Gucciardi also organizes school excursions to the North, where students can experience the Inuit culture first-hand.


"My job is to be an ally and work with First Nation, Métis, and Inuit elders and leaders and those in my community to better understand this history," Gucciardi says.


St. Marguerite d’Youville Secondary School in Brampton has collaborated with Gucciardi to increase student and staff awareness of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit cultures and heritage with an aim toward greater understanding and acceptance. The school has made a strong effort to bring First Nation, Métis, and Inuit perspectives into staff professional learning, school-wide presentations, library resources and course offerings. Students also had the opportunity to participate in a 9-day excursion to Iqaluit, Nunavut.


“This excursion is an extension of our learning and our vision to build awareness and understanding of the complexities of Inuit culture and history, and to begin to provide a curriculum that facilitates learning about all Canada’s First Peoples,”  says Principal Kevin Greco. “We also want to build community partnerships and implement strategies that facilitate increased participation by First Nation, Métis, and Inuit communities in Catholic school curriculum.” See a student-created video of the excursion, right


Students learned how to live off the land, even in the harshest climate, and learned about the Inuit culture and traditions. But most of all, they were exposed to social justice issues and the complicated history between Indigenous people, non-Indigenous people and the Church.

                                                                                                        video caption.jpg

“Our students entered into authentic, realistic and sometimes blunt discussions on social, political, and economic issues important to Inuit individuals and communities in Canada,” says Greco. “Our hope for the students on this excursion was to begin to unravel truth and wholeness of our Canadian history. If we ignore any part of our Canadian history, then our history is not complete.“


food.jpg"I can guarantee that every student who has gone on these excursions has been transformed," says Gucciardi. "Some students have even moved forward in their careers with a fascination for the Arctic and go back."


The excursions to the North have been such a success that they prompted the creation of two documentaries, one of a teacher excursion, and another of a student experience in the Arctic.  As well, Gucciardi and her team are working on final edits for an iBook about Inuit knowledge based on their experiences, to be used by teachers and students.


The Dufferin-Peel CDSB continues to be committed to including accurate Indigenous history, voices and stories into the curriculum. "Champion teachers are embracing this learning and continuing to offer students curriculum that includes an accurate history," says Gucciardi. "Dufferin-Peel CDSB is committed to addressing and supporting the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, including:  sharing information and best practices on teaching curriculum related to residential schools and Aboriginal history, building capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect, and identifying teacher-training needs to address these matters."


The Framework successes are beginning to emerge and will continue to grow as the Ministry, school boards and schools work in partnership to close the achievement gap, and make schools inclusive and equitable so that all learners can reach their full potential.


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TeachOntario Talks Discussion: Closing the Achievement Gap for Ontario's First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Students