Carleton University’s Centre for Initiatives in Education (CIE) offers an Aboriginal High School Mentorship program where Carleton students work as peer mentors with Aboriginal high-school students in the Ottawa area, through involvement in the classroom, lunch clubs, after-school clubs, or cultural clubs. This program is the result of a partnership between the CIE and Carleton’s Centre for Aboriginal Culture and Education (CACE). CACE supports Aboriginal (First Nations, Inuit and Métis) students through their academic journeys at the university.
The mentors are role models and academic/cultural coaches who assist students with their coursework by offering learning strategies and practical advice; the mentors’ post-secondary experiences enable them to refer students to helpful resources and information as a bridge between high school and post-secondary or career goals. The positive relationship between mentor and student helps increase confidence, contributes to the achievement of goals, and fosters an understanding about learning and life challenges. Currently, Carleton Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students are working at the Odawa Urban Aboriginal Alternative High School, which offers a fully Aboriginal curriculum in a holistic learning environment. The mentor program has recently expanded to include two mentors at Rideau High School.
In 2009, CIE’s Aboriginal High School Mentorship program, CACE and Odawa Urban Aboriginal Alternative High School collaborated to develop the Manaadjitowaanwin or ‘Respect’ Workshop. The purpose was to provide intensive training for the CIE/CACE Aboriginal student mentors as well as volunteers and staff from other organizations who work with Aboriginal youth, and to develop resources for training future mentors. This workshop represented a pilot project in developing local Aboriginal mentorship resources.
Although the CIE has extensive experience in mentor training for multicultural situations, and many of the principles and practices of our university mentorship program apply to the high-school program, in the Aboriginal field, such programs are often founded in Aboriginal principles, for example, the grandfather teachings, and we had come to realize that our mentors need to be aware of these principles and understand the perspectives they offered on working with Aboriginal youth.
Additional funding will allow CIE to expand the program at Rideau High School by hiring more mentors and to develop a second workshop which will provide Aboriginally-based training for mentors and volunteers so that they will be better able to work with and support high-school students who participate in the mentoring program. Carleton University and the community benefit by having mentors and volunteers from mainstream schools and other Aboriginal organizations attend and materials developed which are based on the grandfather teachings and other Aboriginal organizing principles/teachings.