Historically, programs and services offered to First Nations, Inuit & Metis(FNIM) people in justice, health and education have for the most part been short term, one off programs that don't address the lifelong learning necessary for youth to develop the skills to be successful. In the case of education, current systems don't address the unique cultural barriers many students face on their journey to post-secondary. Throughout history, Aboriginal ways of knowing have been passed down from one generation to the next. As a result of systemic and historical events, many students don't receive sustained mentoring and positive role modeling to guide them through their early educational journey. Having worked in social services, justice and education over the past 20 years, I have been involved in many successful initiatives with youth. The biggest barrier to continued success for these youth has been the lack of ongoing support to achieve their goals. We build them up, tell them they can be successful and then often, leave them to environments that are unable to continue to walk with them on their journey. Cultural relevance, mentorship, positive role modeling and leadership development have all proven to be successful approaches in building self-esteem and improving educational attainment rates for Aboriginal youth. Unfortunately, we have been unable deliver comprehensive programs that provide all these components of lifelong learning into one sustainable model. Over the past three years, Nipissing University's Office of Aboriginal Initiatives in partnership with 2 local school boards, has developed an model that meets this challenge. Our model creates opportunities for education systems to teach education systems, communities to teach communities and students to teach students. The Aboriginal Student links program (ASL) creates leadership capacity amongst secondary students, sends those students to mentor and lead intermediate students, and in turn, intermediate students mentor and lead junior level students allowing for seamless transition into post secondary. Aboriginal Student Links university interns visit 6 North Bay area secondary schools weekly and meet with students delivering program material geared towards leadership, cultural, personal and career development. ASL interns facilitate weekly sessions grounded in curriculum that focuses on cultural and leadership development. The course material and activities have been aligned with the Ministry of Educations Peer Leadership and Support course, and the GWL Co-op course, which allows participating students to receive secondary credits towards their diploma.
Included in the program are 2 Cultural Leadership Camps, a 2 day conference, pre & post family events, 2 sport tournaments and a awards ceremony. By continuing to engage students and families on a regular basis throughout their secondary years, on into their post secondary education, participating students develop a strong sense of cultural pride; improved attendance and graduation rates, and are more actively participating in school without sacrificing their cultural identity. Students are developing a strong sense of belonging within the education system. ASL students that attend NU are recruited and returned to their home school as ASL interns. ASL began in 2009 and was piloted in one school.Today, we are in 6 schools with 16 Interns, ASL is delivering a program that awards credits towards two different secondary courses and is now reaching down to grade 7&8 students being mentored by the high school students of the program. Another recently introduced component of the program is Community Service Learning (CSL).CSL students from Nipissing Universitys' other programs are now acting as tutors within ASL. This will create cross-cultural learning opportunities for both the Aboriginal students, as well as those placement students that will eventually teach in the schools around the country. SEE IMAGES TAB