Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Native Education

Building Relationships through Reciprocal Student Exchanges

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Native Education

Building Relationships through Reciprocal Student Exchanges

Article excerpt

This participatory action research study describes a reciprocal exchange between two First Nations schools, one in Northern Ontario and one in urban British Columbia. The study participants were 12- to 14-year-old students who were involved in the exchange. Photo-story and sharing circle methods were used to elicit their perceptions of the exchange experience. The four themes that emerged were community and relationships, connections to place, confidence building, and culture and ceremony. This study asserts that experiential educational practices that focus on building relationships and enhancing existing strengths could benefit many First Nations youth.

Building Relationships through Reciprocal Student Exchanges

I learned about another culture, it made me want to learn more about my own. (a Grade 8 student)

This research shares stories of journeys taken. As the primary researcher and a non-Aboriginal person, I (Judy) lived on a Northern Ontario First Nations reserve and taught in the reserve school while observing and researching with the staff and students of the school. These experiences were reminiscent of my childhood growing up and attending school on a First Nations reserve in Northwestern British Columbia (BC) where my dad was a teacher. This study highlights the stories and pictures of students who participated in a First Nations reciprocal educational exchange. Through their journey they built relationships and gained confidence. The school has since participated in another exchange with students from Quebec, continuing to expand students' horizons.

There has been a resurgence of interest in creating relevant educational opportunities for First Nations students. Many hope that a reconnection with culture will help to restore pride and bridge the achievement gap. This study suggests that relationship building is equally important to fostering pride and achievement for First Nation students and that the voices of First Nations students are essential when examining such practices. This article shares findings from the photovoice stories of grade eight First Nations students involved in a reciprocal exchange with First Nations students from another region of Canada. This research examines how such experiential educational practices can engage and empower First Nations youth.

The state of education for First Nations students is an issue of concern for all levels of government and, particularly, for First Nations communities (Atleo, 2010; Cherubini, Hodson, Manley-Casimer, & Muir, 2010; Ontario Education Research Symposium (OER), 2009; Council of Ministers of Education Canada (CMEC), 2009; Richards, 2008; Richards, Vining, & Weimer, 2010). Academic achievement for First Nations students, as measured by enrolment in post -secondary education, high school graduation rates, and provincial test scores, is well below the levels of non-First Nations students in most jurisdictions (Canadian Council on Learning, 2009; Statistics Canada, 2007; Wotherspoon, 2007). Governments have attempted to address the achievement gap of First Nations students in various ways, reflecting their different understandings of what causes this gap. A commonly cited reason for First Nations students' low level of achievement is the lack of cultural congruence between Eurocentric schooling and First Nations cultural knowledge, learning styles, and teaching practices (Ledoux, 2006; Ontario Ministry of Education (OME), 2007; Powless, 2004). As a result, government policies have advocated for the inclusion of First Nations content, pedagogy, and learning styles in the classroom (Cherubni & Hodson, 2008; OME, 2007). For example, Ontario developed 10 Native Studies courses for secondary schools (Godlewska, Moore, & Bednasek, 2010) and published an Aboriginal toolkit (Toulouse, 2008) to help teachers integrate Aboriginal content across the curriculum. Other provinces show similar initiatives (British Columbia, 2006; Saskatchewan, 2005; Nova Scotia, 2008). …

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