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Running head: Closing the gap1

Closing the Gap

Rolanda Arlene Eadie

ECC 510 Technology Tools and Information Literacy

City University
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Abstract

Why is there a gap in the provincial achievement test scores of first nation’s students and what

can be done to close that gap? After taking a new position this year as a vice principle of a

school in Ponoka this year, which includes one third Cree students, I have begun to see the

disproportional graduation rates between “white” and “first nations” students. This has caused

me to look deeper into the root of the problem as well as try to come up with some ideas on ways

that we can begin to close the learning gap starting in our elementary school.

Keywords​: Cree, learning, gap


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Closing the Gap

Rolanda Arlene Eadie

In my leadership role, I am looking for tangible things that can be done in the school that

I am responsible for. I believe that if we can give first nation’s students a solid start to their

educational years, it will carry them through into high school and improve both provincial test

scores and graduation rates. Understanding the history of residential schools, the Sixties Scoop,

the culture of first nation’s students, and researched based teaching techniques can help us to

become agents of change. The goal is to reverse this crisis of intergenerational trauma that is

negatively affecting our first nation’s children. Although this may seem a very lofty goal, I

believe through trying innovative ways of changing programming and school culture, we can

truly make the difference needed to start closing the achievement gap of first nation’s students.

Residential Schools

To truly understand the reason why many of our first nation’s students are performing

poorly in school, we need to go back into our history of the residential schools. In Canada’s

Residential Schools: The Legacy The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

of Canada​ ​reports, “​The closing of residential schools did not bring their story to an end. The

legacy of the schools continues to this day. It is reflected in the significant educational, income,

and health disparities between Aboriginal people and other Canadians—disparities that condemn

many Aboriginal people to shorter, poorer, and more troubled lives.” (p. 3). It is now ever too

apparent, the damage that was caused by residential schools and the intergenerational suffering

that continues on in a vicious cycle that is difficult to break. When kids were taken away from

their own families, they were not cared for in the loving, bonding, caring and nurturing way that
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parents care for their own children. The government tried to “take the Indian out of them,” by

taking away their clothing, not allowing them to speak in their native tongue, and by separating

them from all family contact, customs, and culture. They were stripped of their “Family Funds

of Knowledge. (Anderson, Kendrick & McTavish, 2017) shares, ​“Funds of knowledge have been

described as “the essential cultural practices and bodies of knowledge and information that

households use to survive, to get ahead, or to thrive.” (p. 2).

This TRC article makes it very clear that our Canadian government has caused/contributed to

a damaged native society for generations causing “intergenerational trauma.” The adults that had

a difficult life in the residential schools went on to have children of their own, raising them the

best way that they could. Unfortunately, because of shame, drug and alcohol abuse and without

great modelling, or a solid family/community support system, they didn’t have a lot of success in

raising successful children. The truth and reconciliation commission reports, “Tim McNeil felt

the impact of residential schools when his children were older: “I was a good parent until my

kids turned thirteen, and when my kids turned thirteen then I started parenting them the way that

I was when I was in school. So suddenly my love was gone, my affection was gone, my time was

gone. I started treating them the way I was treated in the dorm. And that was with strict rules,

strict discipline, you had to follow a certain order, there was no love, there was no affection.”

These survivors suffered in residential schools. Their children suffered because of their

suffering.” (p. 12).

The government made a huge mistake creating residential schools and absconded

children to “cultural genocide.” To make matters worse, the government had to deal with the all
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of the ramifications of the residential schools. Once again, our Canadian government messed

things up further by, what is referred to now as, “the sixties scoop.”

The Sixties Scoop

What is the Sixties Scoop and what does it have to do with intergenerational trauma

amongst Canada’s first nation’s population?​ Provincial social workers, with little to no training

in Aboriginal culture were assigned to assess child safety on the reserves. They passed their own

judgement on what they considered to be poor parenting. They did not understand anything

about the trauma that was related to residential schools. “As a result, beginning in the 1960s,

provincial child welfare workers removed thousands of children from Aboriginal communities. It

has been called the “Sixties Scoop.”​ (​pgs. 14-15).

Once again, with no attempt to preserve their culture and identity, mass adoptions

continued for 30 years, and still continue today, placing Aboriginal children in non-Aboriginal

homes throughout Canada, the United States and even overseas. Dislocated and denied of their

Aboriginal identity caused identity confusion, low self-esteem, and addictions. This in turn led to

lower levels of educational achievement and unemployment. The sixties scoop was a

continuation of the trauma that was created and felt in the residential schools because the child

was adopted, but not the child’s culture. And, unfortunately, many were also abused. I

ntergenerational trauma leads to cultural genocide. Where does a displaced society go from

here? What can schools do to make a difference in lives of first nation’s adults and children?

How can the rebuilding of a culture possibly begin? There are a lot of questions and luckily

there are some answers too. Let’s start with the adults.
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Healing the Spirit.

According to Lickers (2003), in order to teach a Native, you must also help them to heal

their spirit. She has successfully implemented a literacy program that not only teaches literacy,

but life skills as well. The Six Nations Achievement Literacy Center has a 90% success rate for

adults finding jobs, returning to school, or starting their own business. Lickers (2003) has a

much different approach to education than the The Ministry of Training, and Colleges. The

MTCU looks at ​language, lack of transportation, need for babysitting services, and lack of

money as barriers to Native Literacy. Although there is money to support many literacy

programs, not many of them that were run were successful. ​ Lickers (2003) would argue, “​The

MTCU does not recognize the greatest barriers of all: mental, emotional, and spiritual

dysfunction. These barriers are the greatest hindrance to the success of Native students. The

effects of these barriers reflect Native reality: Natives have the highest school dropout rate,

alcoholism rate, drug addiction rate, suicide rate, and the highest percentage of people in jails.”

(p. 56). She goes on to share how the program is set up with instruction in literacy and math

skills, training in social skills, as well as assignments such as resume writing, adults attain the

skills and self-confidence they need to be successful in the work place.

Nourishing the Learning Spirit​.

(Anuik, Baptiste, & George, 2010) also shares how the spirit must be nourished for First

Nation’s Canadians to thrive in an educational setting. “​Aboriginal Elders, cultural resource

people, and Indigenous scholars believe that to identify, comprehend, and nourish the learning
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spirit requires educators to recognize that all learners are "spirit, heart, mind, and body" a part of

creation, and have a purpose that is, most importantly, driven by their spirit.”​ (​ p. 65). The just of

the article was that there are programs currently running that teach in a very holistic way.

The three programs that were looked at in depth was the Kapachee Training Centre’s

Little Tots program, The Seven Generations Institute Camps, and Integrative Science and

Mi’kmaq Studies. The theme that was integrated in all of these educational settings was that the

spiritual, emotional, mental and physical aspects of the learner was creatively and socially

nurtured through mutual respect. The programs brought back the joy of learning through rich,

cultural experiences. As I read about the programming in these centers I wondered how much of

it I could bring back to our school in Ponoka.

Joyful Literacy Interventions.

One reoccurring theme in successful literacy programming is to bring back the joy of

learning. Janet Mort, a retired school superintendent appealed to my quest to find the way to

close the achievement gap. At the Vulnerable Reader’s Conference in Calgary last month, she

spoke passionately about her research and school pilot projects, including a First Nation’s

School. She designed her literacy projects specifically to catch children up in the skills that they

were deficient in at the kindergarten to second grade years. Her book is full of fun, playful,

holistic activities that focus specifically on the skills that children must have by grade two to be

successful in literacy in their future years. Mort (2013) states, “Implementing this integrated

model effectively will provide us with the opportunity to close the experiential gaps for the

children who enter school “unlucky in literacy.” Research is our guide. All of our decisions must
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be research-driven so we can create optimal opportunities for our most vulnerable but capable

children.” (p. 5). The same urgency is also shared by (McIntosh, Mathews, Mackay, et al.,

2011), “​The importance of early intervention is highlighted by research conducted by Juel

(1988), which indicated that strong readers in Grade 1 have 87% chance of staying strong readers

in Grade 4, when compared to poor readers, who have 88% chance of remaining poor readers.

Thus, early intervention for students at risk of future learning problems can begin in kindergarten

to ensure that all students become literate and experience early school success (Daly, Chafouleas,

& Skinner, 2005; Foorman, Breier, & Fletcher, 2003), and more intensive and explicit curricula

reduce risk more effectively than typical literacy curricula (Torgesen, 2002)” ​Through very

strategic, critical assessments, teachers will get a precise understanding of the skills that they

need to reinforce through play based learning activities. This sounds too good to be true, but

through a “literacy blitz,” more than 90% of children in the pilot schools were successful in

children learning the key literacy components.

Putting on the Blitz.

A “literacy blitz” is a phrase that Mort (2016) uses to refer to the structure of the joyful

literacy interventions. In her book ​Putting on the Blitz​, Mort (2016) wrote, “We now have proven

that our aboriginal children can learn at the 90% success level just like everyone else- when

teachers do “the right things.” (pg.vii). The literacy blitz takes place over and above the time and

teaching in the regular classroom. It is intended to be a short term top up such as a two week

period. The look of the blitz would vary from school to school but the concept is fixed. During

this block of time, students would “play” in literacy rich games/activities that specifically
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address their literacy needs. Mort has prepared circle charts to help teachers address the essential

foundational skills. Through the play based activities, students are so engaged that they don’t

even realize they are learning. I am very eager to try and get a blitz going at our school.

In conclusion, my vision and hope for closing the achievement gap amongst our first

nation’s students has been resurrected. Although we all need to understand the intergenerational

trauma and the effect that the past has had on today’s Aboriginal children, we need to start with

them to reverse the negative cycle. Creative approaches that evolve out of researched based

studies like the literacy blitz offer hopeful literacy solutions. The authors that have referred to

teaching the whole child: Anderson, Anuik, Grotberg, Lickers, McIntosh, and Tileston, make it

impossible to ignore the cultural differentiation that we need to be cognizant and nurturing

towards. Schools that embrace diversity and culture must include creative approaches that show

respect for the Aboriginal language, art, food, sports, etc.

In Ponoka, we have two Elders who visit weekly to interact, model, and teach

traditional ways to all of our students. We have partnered up with the Outreach school to include

one of their native students as my intramural partner. Lori interacts with students through play

and having another indigenous role model in our school sends a powerful message to all of our

staff and students. We have set up a tipi in our courtyard to create another outdoor learning

space. I also have plans to create all signage in Cree as well as English so that we are truly

“bilingual.” There is so much that can be done to enhance the experience of our first nation’s

students. I want to learn more so that all children in our school will feel welcome and respected.
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We can truly celebrate the diversity and the beauty of their culture each day. We also teach

character development skills like resiliency, grit, compassion, empathy and kindness.

As educators it is our job to learn about the culture and history of the first nation’s

children that we are teaching. When we know their story, we can gain the compassion that is

needed to reach their soul. Listening to stories from children, their parents, and Elders helps us

to understand and empathize. I like what I heard elder Mary Moonias, who was one of the

residential school survivors, say at our recent administrative P.D. day, “I turned my anger into

determination.” Our hope is that our students will internalize the positive messaging in our

school and will continue to grow up becoming strong, resilient first nation’s people. Grotberg,

(2003) says, “Resilience gives children skills that allow them to face, overcome, be strengthened

and sometimes even transformed by adverse incidents, adverse events, and adverse

environments. Resilience is essential for children during their school years.” (p. 106).

The “white” culture in Canada needs to close the “ignorance gap” about our disrespectful

Canadian history. The achievement gap can definitely be closed with excellent teaching on the

fundamental literacy skills using a holistic approach that reaches the head, heart and spirit.

Tileston (2008) states, “The highest predictor of academic achievement is the proficiency of the

teachers in effective instructional practice.” (p. 19). Tileston and Mort have very similar

optimistic views. I totally agree with them. It is a daily journey about learning and growing for

all Canadians. But we can “get there,” together, one step at a time.

References
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Anderson, J., Horton, L., Kendrick, M., & McTavish, M. (2017). Children’s funds of knowledge

in a rural northern canadian community: A telling case.​ Language and Literacy, 19​(2),

20. Retrieved from

http://proxy.cityu.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy.cityu.edu/docview/19

17373723?accountid=1230

Anuik, J., Battiste, M., & George, P. (2010). Learning from promising programs and

applications in nourishing the learning spirit.​ Canadian Journal of Native Education,

33​(1), 63-82,154-155. Retrieved from

http://proxy.cityu.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy.cityu.edu/docview/86

4885237?accountid=1230

Grotberg, E. H. (2003). ​Resilience for Today: Gaining Strength From Adversity​. Westport, CT:

Greenwood Publishing Group.

Lickers, E. (2003). Healing the spirit.​ Canadian Journal of Native Education, 27​(1), 55-n/a.

Retrieved from

http://proxy.cityu.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy.cityu.edu/docview/23

0304362?accountid=1230
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McIntosh, K., Mathews, S., Gietz, C., MacKay, L. D., Pelser, J., Mah, I., Edgcombe, J. (2011).

Effects of a culturally responsive speech and language intervention for students of

indigenous and non-indigenous heritage.​ Canadian Journal of Education, 34​(3), 181-195.

Retrieved from

http://proxy.cityu.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy.cityu.edu/docview/90

3202624?accountid=1230

Moonias, Mary. Wolf Creek P.D. Day. 15 Nov. 2017. Lacombe Memorial Centre. Survivor of

the Residential School Guest Speaker.

Mort, J. N. (2014). ​Joyful Literacy Interventions Part One: Early Classroom Essentials​. San

Bernadino, CA: CreateSpace.

Mort, J. N. (2016). ​Joyful Literacy Interventions Series Part Two​: ​Putting on the Blitz​. San

Bernadino, CA: CreateSpace.

Tileston, D. and Darling, S. (2008). ​Why Culture Counts​. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). ​Canada’s Residential Schools: The

Legacy The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, ​(5).
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Retrieved from

http://nctr.ca/assets/reports/Final%20Reports/Volume_5_Legacy_English_Web.pdf
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