The Campbell River school district hoped for at least a dozen kindergarten students for a proposed Indigenous immersion pilot program.
It got that and then some, School District 72 staff told trustees at the Feb. 5 board meeting.
“It is going to go ahead,” assistant superintendent Nevenka Fair said while updating the board on the two-year pilot program, as well as a recent open house on Jan. 20 the district held for families interested in the program.
The kindergarten students are enroled in a Liq’wala/Kwak’wala immersion program at Ripple Rock Elementary that will start in September. The district’s hope was to get between 12 and 18 students signed up. As of the board meeting, Fair said there were 14 students confirmed.
Fair said the open house in January provided an opportunity for the school district to give parents an idea of what the program will look like as well as the history of how it originated. It also meant Ripple Rock staff got to share some information about the school itself and the opportunities they offer. She said parents commented later about how excited the staff were about the new immersion program.
As well, the district will also be talking to parents of children currently in kindergarten at the school to determine if there is enough interest to include Grade 1 as part of the immersion program.
The school district has been working to incorporate Indigenous culture in schools in a number of ways, such as through its Aboriginal Educational Enhancement Agreement and training for staff.
District staff also spoke at the board meeting about how the program fits with a recent United Nations declaration.
“This year has been declared by the UN as the Year of Indigenous Languages,” superintendent Jeremy Morrow said at the outset of the meeting. “I think it’s particularly timely.”
He added the UN has made this declaration in light of the critical role that languages play in people’s lives, serving as a repository for their history, unique identity, traditions and memory. At the same time, many Indigenous languages are disappearing.
Fair expanded on this to explain the UN declaration is opening up a number of grant opportunities from the federal and provincial governments for Indigenous language projects.
“We will be exploring these with our local Indigenous communities,” she said.
The trustees followed up with a motion to work with local First Nations chiefs and councils to explore any chances for more language programs supported by grants. The trustees passed the motion unanimously.
Trustee Daryl Hagen added that the district chose to move ahead with the new program at Ripple Rock on its own rather than as a result of a grant opportunity.
“I would like it to be noted that we did this not expecting to get any grants,” he said. “We just said we had to do this.”
Some trustees echoed the points about this being an opportunity to work further with the local communities on its Aboriginal Educational Enhancement Agreement. Others touched on how the program helps fulfill recommendations from the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“Our support of this program is at least a first step along that way,” trustee John Kerr said. “I would suspect that we are probably, if we’re not the only district, one of the few districts in the province who is doing this.”