ARCHIVED - Part 2: 2013 - First Nation Student Success Program

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Table of Contents

Community Approach to Education

Tried, tested and true.

Tell Them From Me is a survey administered to children in grades 4 to 12. The questions pertain to school-related issues including nutrition; healthcare, bullying, social interactions, sexual education and intellectual engagement, and the results provide a qualitative snapshot of student attitudes and the climate of the school.

Early Year Evaluation is an online assessment tool that identifies the developmental level of young kindergarten children. With this information, teachers and parents can determine appropriate educational approaches and monitor student progress in their early years.

Educational leaders from the First Nations of the Treaty 4 territory celebrate a groundbreaking program that encourages unity among school districts.

The First Nations of the Treaty 4 territory in southeastern Saskatchewan recognize that at the heart of every great educational program lies a strong community. Indeed, they even based their new literacy and numeracy program, Treaty 4 Student Success Program (T4SSP), on the concept.

The Treaty 4 Student Success Program is one of six initiatives in Saskatchewan developed with the support of the First Nations Students Success Program. It is completely unlike the rest. Guided by member boards of treaty Chiefs and councilors, the Treaty 4 Student Success Program uses community engagement as a springboard to promote literacy and numeracy and encourage kids to stay in school. As such, culture, language and traditional values are as fundamental to the program as reading and writing.

"Community development and participation are the most critical aspects of the Treaty 4 Student Success Program," says Lori Whiteman, program director. "It is the key factor in every decision we make and every discussion we have."

Bridging the gap

Yet, the program does more than just connect educators with the families of Treaty 4's eleven regional schools. It also forms bonds among educators and leaders from all the First Nation school divisions, including Horizon, Prairie Valley, Good Spirit and South East Cornerstone.

"Representatives from across the region feel they are part of a network of educators now," says Whiteman. "This spirit of affiliation makes teachers comfortable raising concerns, sharing stories and working through challenges together."

School staff who once felt isolated now feel connected to their communities thanks to monthly meetings and common planning sessions organized through the Treaty 4 Student Success Program. Furthermore, the gatherings have empowered teachers to realize their potential to instigate change in the learning initiatives within their own classrooms and communities.

"The work we're doing is historic and groundbreaking," says Whiteman. "Educators are recognizing that they can improve academic performance by teaching their students to cherish the wisdom of the community and nurturing a sense of belonging."

A unified vision of success

To champion unity across the Treaty 4 region, administrators and teachers are adopting the sharing unique approach through a common vision of success, and tailoring school success plans to the unique needs of their respective schools. They are also implementing a variety of assessment programs.

These programs, which include Tell Them From Me and Early Years Evaluation, present timely, quantifiable data about students' retention of knowledge. In this, the assessment programs provide educators with the information they need to plan lessons at appropriate levels. Perhaps even more importantly, the assessment programs eliminate the error of misinterpretation. Educators evaluate the same factors and assess progress made under the Treaty 4 Student Success Program against the same objectives.

To date, this progress has been promising by all accounts.
"With the help of FNSSP, we have adopted a unique educational program that, we believe, will serve the students in Treaty 4 First Nations schools, and strengthen communities now and into the future."

Eastern Alberta First Nation students hail their HEROES

Tried, tested and true.

HEROES is a program designed by Impact Society, a Calgary-based youth development organization, to help build confidence, integrity and resiliency in young people.

Childhood is the time when heroes matter most—especially when they're hard to find. For the third year in a row, First Nation students in five schools served by the Tribal Chiefs Education Foundation are learning to see heroes all around them—even in the mirror.

As an integral retention strategy of the school success plans, the HEROES program offers kids a new vision. 183 Tribal Chiefs Education Foundation students in grades 4 to 12 completed the HEROES program in 2011–2012 with funding from the First Nation Student Success Program (FNSSP). It begins as a fun part of their health studies, but educators believe these lessons in self-esteem will translate into every class, every day.

In fact, Le Goff School in the Cold Lake First Nation begins each day with the HEROES affirmation: "I have gifts and abilities and the desire to succeed."

It is all about kids discovering their unique talents. Teachers trained in the HEROES program guide their students through exercises that change the way they look at themselves and their peers.
"Kids learn not only to find the ‘hero within,' but also to recognize heroes in their lives that aren't pop stars or sports figures," says Tribal Chiefs Education Foundation project manager Russell Hunter. "They discover inspiring heroes in their families and tribal communities."

Teens are HEROES2

Older students build on those initial eye-opening lessons. The HEROES2 program challenges kids to use their gifts and abilities in service of their schools, families and communities.

"The students might choose to raise money through taco sales or bake-offs," says Tribal Chiefs Education Foundation success coach Sally Scanie. "But other ideas cost nothing at all. At Kehewin High School, students started an after-school dance class to teach younger children some new moves."

Kids also learn to see past their peer group. The HEROES2 students explore new ways to help their Elders.

"Students might pick bushels of cranberries to help prepare a community feast, or go fishing together and donate their catch to the Elders," says Scanie. "These gestures connect students to their shared past and forge strong bonds with mentors guiding them into the future."

Scanie points to everyday gestures as measures of success. "Our students are really opening up and helping more in school. Kids at Le Goff School help to set up for school functions and clean up afterward. They form assembly lines to fill candy bags for the community Halloween party," she says.

"These are kids who think: ‘I can definitely help with the things I'm good at.'"

This confidence boost also percolates into the staff room. Seeking student input for the post-program survey, one teacher heard the words: "Miss Cross, you're my hero." For an educator nervous about delivering the HEROES curriculum for the first time, Scanie says this was terrific positive reinforcement: "She said to me, ‘I am doing it right.'"

But there is more than qualitative evidence. Indeed, one school reported that, since the inception of the HEROES in 2010, there has been a 90% increase in student enrolment in the program (from 19 to 36 students). In addition, the attendance of those participating in HEROES has reached an average of 86%. The crowning achievement, however, is that all students who participated in the program in 2011-2012 returned to school the next year (2012-2013) - a 100% retention rate!

Solid resources and a common language

Russell Hunter is unequivocal that "the HEROES program is effective because FNSSP provides the Tribal Chiefs Education Foundation with solid resources, including pre-and post-completion assessments and the steady support of our success coach."

"At every stage of the program, teachers are checking in—with students, with administrators, and perhaps most importantly, with each other," he says.

The success also belongs to the Tribal Chiefs Education Foundation's strong professional learning communities. Since 2010, the FNSSP has trained 32 Tribal Chiefs Education Foundation teachers to deliver the HEROES and HEROES2 programs. Teachers receive two to three days of group training, learning methods of self-reflection that they bring back to their students.
"They learn a common language," says Scanie, "about ‘walls' that kids put up against engagement, about ‘balcony friends' kids can look up to and ‘basement friends,' who pull them down." Teachers share that vocabulary with their students, equipping everyone with new ways to talk about tough subjects.

The HEROES teachers also learn from each other's triumphs and challenges. With support from the FNSSP, they meet monthly at the tribal offices to share their experiences and their enthusiasm.

"Teachers are passionate about the program because they see what it can do," says Scanie. "They really see changes in the students: the kids are not so shy, they're not hiding in their hoods."

One student at Amisk School, from the Beaver Lake First Nation, summed it up this way: "In HEROES I learned to think bigger, to act bigger and to be bigger."

These changes are cause for celebration. At the year-end dinner, each student presents his or her invited guest with a rose and explains what makes that person a hero.

"It sometimes gets emotional, but that's a good thing," says one Tribal Chiefs Education Foundation teacher. "Sometimes we don't tell our heroes we love them or thank them enough."

Bringing the successes home

The enthusiasm for HEROES is growing. Administrators plan to launch HEROES at Home in a version of the program for families. Staff members are gathering information from parents to gauge their interest.

"Maybe we need to schedule around parents' work days. Maybe we need to help with child care. We need to know what the obstacles might be, so that we can be prepared with solutions. We want to get families on board," says Sally Scanie.
These are challenges the Tribal Chiefs Education Foundation relishes. With the momentum of HEROES' success, and the ongoing support of the FNSSP, educators are optimistic that more kids will soon be saying, "I have a hero at home, too."

Kids keep coming back for more at Ahkwesahsne schools

Sometimes getting an education means overcoming problems with geography. The Ahkwesahsne Mohawk Board of Education serves 533 students in three elementary schools spread out along the border between Cornwall Island in Ontario, St. Regis, Quebec and the northernmost part of New York State. The sprawling nature of the community means many students travel long distances to school—some even have to pass through U.S. and Canada Customs to begin and end their day. Too often, kids choose to let the bus roll past and just stay in their pajamas.

From bedroom to classroom. This daily journey is essential to Ahkwesahsne Mohawk Board of Education director of education Dr. Barry Montour. "Attendance and achievement are linked," he says. "We have to get kids into school, or they can't get anything out of school."

It's a single problem that demands multiple strategies. With the support of the First Nation Student Success Program (FNSSP), Dr. Montour and his staff have created three new programs to revitalize student attendance.

Intervening early

Each school created an Attendance Solutions Team that includes the school principal, a counselor and select teachers. The team meets monthly to identify students who are accumulating missed days or consistently arriving late.

The Attendance Solutions Team members then pair up with at-risk students to discuss the reasons for their absences or lateness. It's a one-on-one scenario that helps kids open up about situations at home or at school that may be keeping them away or being reluctant to come to school. Kids also see that someone really cares whether or not they show up for classes. They learn that they matter. Together, the student and Attendance Solutions Team member set new attendance goals and establish a reward for meeting them.

"This individualized approach helps us to reach students early before it becomes a habit to skip school," says Dr. Montour.

This habit is easy to pick up. Older students tend to be absent for reasons beyond simply missing the bus, including boredom with classes, difficulties at home and pressure from older peers. Staying home can seem much simpler. However, in these Attendance Solutions Team meetings, students set their own attendance standards which can be a big step in taking responsibility for their education and for their future.

Teaming up to create a plan

Tried, tested and true.

The Attendance Improvement Intervention Plan is in place in all three of the Ahkwesahsne Mohawk Board of Education's elementary schools. It also extends to First Nation students in Grades 9–12 attending high school in Ontario's Upper Canada District School Board.

As absences accrue, staff at each school make calls to parents and send letters home. But when a student reaches 20 unexcused absences, the principal must notify Ahkwesahsne Child and Family Services or the Children's Aid Society. It's a serious step that can have lasting consequences. Since the staged process has been in place, this most serious level of intervention has never required implementation.

So staff developed the Attendance Improvement Intervention Plan. When a student in one of the Ahkwesahsne Mohawk Board of Education's schools reaches 15 absences, the principal invites the child's parents, a school counselor and the director of education to meet. Together they discuss how the student's chronic absence or lateness is affecting his or her report card. They explore the reasons why the student isn't arriving at school.

"Everyone has a story," says Dr. Montour. "The list of excuses is always long. But we're prepared with solutions, too."

Staff and parents then work together to create an Attendance Improvement Intervention Plan. They identify an attendance ally for the student. The ally, whether they be a friend, relative or neighbor, can check on the student in the mornings and provide a no-questions-asked ride to school when needed. The group also sets a new goal for attendance. Parents sign off on consequences—such as doing extra project work or helping teachers after school—if the student falls short of the goal.

It's a powerful approach that unites home and school. Parents not only help to create the Attendance Improvement Intervention Plan, they also help reinforce the value of education. By insisting that kids go to class every day and arrive on time, parents show that they care about school and about their kids. Simply asking, "What did you do at school today?" can go much further than parents think.

We are all here

Sometimes peer pressure can be a good thing. Perhaps the Ahkwesahsne Mohawk Board of Education's most imaginative new incentive to improve attendance is fostering student competition. For every day of perfect attendance, each class earns a letter to post outside their room. The goal is to spell the Mohawk phrase AKWE:KON KEN IÁKWES, which in English means: "We are all here."

It's a race. The first class to collect all 17 letters in the phrase earns a reward: a movie day, a pizza party or some other special treat of the children's choosing. When one class reaches the goal or better yet, when several classes do—the letters come down and the contest starts over. It's a simple, powerful tool for motivating kids to come to school each day. Their classmates are counting on them, after all.

Strength in numbers

The Ahkwesahsne Mohawk Board of Education began receiving FNSSP support to create its student retention strategy in 2009. Since then, Tsi Snaihne School in Ahkwesahsne, Quebec has shown steady improvement. Attendance has risen by nearly one percent each year. The Kana:takon School in St. Regis, Quebec saw a sharp single-year increase: a four percent jump between the 2010–2011 and 2011–12 school years.

Among the three Ahkwesahsne Mohawk Board of Education schools, attendance has risen by 2.15 percent overall. For a board serving 533 students, that means 11 more boys and girls at their desks.

The percentages may seem small, but the long-term benefit of guiding 11 more children through the school system each year is incalculable.

"Attendance not only affects children's academic achievement, it affects their social lives and self-esteem at a critical time of life," says Dr. Montour. He also stresses how important it is for kids to have access to caring, well-trained adult role models: "When kids attend school regularly, staff members can offer tutoring, counseling and coaching that can make an enormous difference in kids' lives."

With continued strong support from the FNSSP, Dr. Montour is confident that the Ahkwesahsne Mohawk Board of Education's impressive attendance gains are just the beginning.
"We're working hard to keep students coming back, and they are. It's not a fluke," he says. "It's a fact."

A digital wave of change on Manitoulin Island

Tried, tested and true.

The Trillium student information management system collects and aggregates data such as demographics (contact, transportation and family info), enrollment, attendance, achievement tracking and reporting, scheduling and special education.

Perched on the shores of Lake Huron, the community of Wikwemikong experiences plenty of waves. Some have more impact than others.

With funding from the First Nation Student Success Program (FNSSP), administrators have sent a major digital wave through the Wikwemikong Board of Education. They've made major technological upgrades to improve efficiency, spark imagination and help students move forward in their studies.

Information is power

Tried, tested and true.

The Students Achieve product suite works seamlessly with Trillium to provide fast and thorough data analysis.

The Wikwemikong Board of Education's first step was to take control of its data. Information technology experts implemented the Trillium student information management system board-wide. Before the software was introduced, staff at Pontiac School and Wasse-Abin Junior School laboriously entered student information into spreadsheets and filed hard copies.

Now educators and administrators can access all student data from busing information to test results—with a few keystrokes. The board's IT support staff also modified the software to simplify attendance reporting to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

Wikwemikong Board of Education, Education Director Dominic Beaudry says, "the Trillium software, in concert with another product suite called Students Achieve, has transformed planning at every level and data now drives our board."

It begins before the first day of school. The new applications generate class lists highlighting struggling students or students with other challenges that may require alterations to lesson plans and assessments. Educators can begin each term with an individual education plan in place for those students, rather than reacting days or weeks later.

Frequent feedback, rapid response

New data feeds new ideas. Administrators instituted more responsive six-week learning cycles in all three schools. Educators no longer have to wait until report card time or for Education Quality Accountability Office (EQAO) test scores to see how a given class or individual student is performing. Teachers can make changes to assessments or lesson plans during or between learning cycles.

"Teachers are excited to see data coming in so regularly and so clearly," says Beaudry. "Energy levels and morale soar when teachers see evidence of their hard work."

Better data and analysis leads to better classroom planning—and better test results. The Wikwemikong Board of Education's EQAO results for 2011–2012 show marked improvements across the board: by 31 percent in math, 16 percent in reading and 20 percent in writing. The Wikwemikong Board of Education began receiving FNSSP funding in April 2010, which means students achieved these impressive gains in slightly more than a year. 

Web mastery

The new Wikwemikong Board of Education website is a single, comprehensive source for board and school information. Beaudry says the site and the new board-wide web mail system have broken down the information barriers that once isolated schools and employees.

"It's fantastic. Staff members are no longer writing, printing and copying memos. They're freed from paperwork to be and feel more productive," he says.

Technology tools for classrooms

This technological revolution isn't just for teachers and administrators it's also at the students' fingertips. With FNSSP funding, schools purchased 65 new computers and there's now a desktop in every class.

Smart boards are popping up in more classrooms, too. "The kids just jump up to work with them. They're awed by them," says Beaudry. The junior school was already using smart boards, but now the elementary school and high school have access to the technology as well.

"FNSSP support has smoothed out the pockets that existed between our schools," says Beaudry. "Teachers and students alike are taking this new technology and really running with it."

Riding the wave—and sustaining it

Beaudry and his principals have big plans for maintaining the momentum. Administrators want to purchase more hardware and make the Wikwemikong Board of Education's IT support role a full-time position.

Members recognize that FNSSP funding has been indispensable in ensuring that Wikwemikong Board of Education continue to surf the technological wave, thereby greatly enhancing the students' learning experience and improved educational outcomes.

Beaudry says, "We're determined to continue what we've started in Wikwemikong and we're ready to take another big leap forward."

Nova Scotia First Nation students are big fans of the ‘Book Lady'

You can never have too many books. The Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey board of education, serving 11 Nova Scotia First Nations, often has too few. It's a common problem in schools. With support from the First Nation Student Success Program (FNSSP), Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey has found an uncommonly successful solution.

In partnership with the Cape Breton Regional Library, Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey created Library in the Classroom (LIC), an initiative designed to augment classroom resources and nurture students' interest in reading. It began—as so many good things do—by talking with a librarian.

In 2010, Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey Literacy Consultant Janice Ciavaglia sat down beside Cape Breton Regional Librarian Faye MacDougall at a school library advisory board meeting. Introductory niceties—"What do you do?"—led to a discussion of the lack of library services available to the region's on-reserve students.

In many cases, it's a distance problem. Some First Nation schools are 40 kilometers from the nearest library. Teachers find it difficult—and expensive—to get fresh, relevant curriculum resources. But Ciavaglia and MacDougall had an idea. If teachers and students couldn't get to the library, the library could come to them.

Books on the move

Together, Ciavaglia and MacDougall created a pilot project to bring books from the 13 branches of the Cape Breton Regional Library into two Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey schools. The three participating teachers provided lists of subjects related to the curriculum. The libraries selected relevant titles at appropriate reading levels, and Ciavaglia delivered bins filled with books to the classrooms each month. She became a one-woman bookmobile.

"Teachers are always keen to get more resources into their classrooms, and they can't always afford to buy them," says Ciavaglia. "Word got around."

Enter the ‘Book Lady'

As more and more teachers asked to participate, Ciavaglia realized she needed help. As part of Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey's success planning process, Ciavaglia and FNSSP Director Laurianne Stevens wrote a proposal for funding to hire a part-time staff member to take over the book requests and deliveries. In September 2012, Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey hired Rebecca Scirocco-Paul as Library in the Classroom Assistant.

A professional photographer and busy mom of two, Scirocco-Paul is also pursuing her BA in Community Studies at Cape Breton University with an eye to reaching teacher's college. Asked how she manages all these responsibilities, she says: "I'm mobile."

Communicating mostly via email on her phone, Scirocco-Paul relays requests to the library and keeps in touch with Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey's literacy consultant. She also renews and places holds on library titles online. Then, at the beginning of every month, she picks up and delivers bins brimming with books to all the participating classrooms.

"The kids are always so excited to see me," says Scirocco-Paul. "They call me the Book Lady."

Placing books in students' hands

The bins Scirocco-Paul comes bearing are filled mostly with non-fiction titles related to the topics students are tackling each month. But librarians never pass up a chance to hook a new reader.

"Every bin also includes some age-appropriate popular fiction," says librarian Faye MacDougall. So Geronimo Stilton novels might appear among science books, or Rainbow Fairies adventures among the geography books. It's a mix that works.

"The kids are turning to the book bins to fuel their own independent reading," say FNSSP Director Laurianne Stevens. "Teachers really see students engaging and improving—they love it."

Faye MacDougall has seen teacher's enthusiasm grow, too. She recounts a story from a Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey teacher whose students use book bin resources for group research projects. The kids read the books together and then create a PowerPoint presentation to deliver to their classmates. The teacher told MacDougall that these students are amazingly comfortable giving their presentations. They don't just read from the screen.

"The students retain the information and can deliver it in their own words," says MacDougall. "I think their retention is so much better than if they only use the Internet. They're not just copying and pasting information: they're really reading."

Boosting offline learning

Tried, tested and true.

The Library in the Classroom program not only enhances Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey students' literacy skills—it also teaches them responsibility. "Kids are learning how to care to for the books, for objects that don't belong to them or to the school," says Rebecca Scirocco-Paul. "They're learning respect." Faye MacDougall confirms that, although Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey has committed to replacing any lost or damaged books, "it hasn't been a problem at all."

The Library in the Classroom program brings books to students—and they also return the favour. "We made it a priority in our budget to include a library trip for every class," says literacy consultant Janice Ciavaglia.

"It's important to the get kids inside the library, get them a card and really demonstrate that reading doesn't just happen in the classroom," Ciavaglia says. "It's an everyday, anywhere activity."

i'kmaw Kina'matnewey high school students have an opportunity to explore the Cape Breton University library and get a sense of what post-secondary research will be like. "They see that they'll be using more than just the Internet," says Scirocco-Paul. "It's a bit of a shock for some of them."

The surprises abound. Faye MacDougall recalls one class of Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey elementary students spending an entire day at the Sydney branch—their first-ever visit to a public library.

"These kids were just wide-eyed with wonder," MacDougall says. "They got to see where all these books were coming from and how many more were waiting for them. It was just delightful."

Improving circulation

The Library in the Classroom partnership is mutually beneficial. Schools enjoy a wider variety of resources, and libraries see higher circulation numbers. The process works well, but inspiration drives improvement.

From a recent feedback survey, Scirocco-Paul learned that teachers find it difficult to track precisely how often the book bins are used. Her solution? Recruit the students.

Scirocco-Paul created a Library in the Classroom poster for each classroom, with a tally sheet: each time a student uses a book from the bin, he puts a sticker on the tally sheet. Easy. At the end of each month, after tallies have been recorded, the sheets will be entered in a draw to win books, bookstore gift cards and other reading-friendly prizes for the classrooms. Better tracking, happy kids.

Reaching farther

Creative ideas like this help build excitement around a program that's growing every month, thanks to continued support from FNSSP. From just three teachers in its pilot phase, Library in the Classroom has expanded to serve 24 teachers and more than 400 students. Schools in Pictou Landing and Antigonish County joined in September 2013, and over the course of the 2013-2014 school years, Library in the Classroom will become available to all Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey schools.

The program has been such a success that Scirocco-Paul has been hired full-time as of April 2013. "I'm looking forward to spending more time in the classrooms," she says. She's already planning shared reading sessions and summer reading camps.

With nurturing and support, good ideas flourish. Faye McDougall reports that other Nova Scotia library professionals are taking Library in the Classroom as a model for their own regions. "This little idea has bubbled up into something big," she says.

"It's only going to grow from here."

Ermineskin schools turn data into action

Tried, tested and true.

Initially, each of the three Ermineskin schools hired its own literacy and numeracy coaches. Feedback from teachers and administrators prompted the switch to the current model: a single coach for each skill, working in all three schools. This arrangement reduces duplication of tasks and provides more continuity for staff and students.

Students aren't the only ones being tested in First Nation schools. Administrators and educators need to answer a lot of questions, too: Who are our students? What triumphs or challenges are they experiencing? Where are they coming from? Why are they succeeding or struggling? How can we help them?

With assistance from the First Nation Student Success Program (FNSSP), the board of education for the Ermineskin Cree Nation in Hobbema, Alberta found answers to those questions. With FNSSP funding, Ermineskin was able to implement a technical solution to efficiently manage student data. Ermineskin's new literacy and numeracy coaches now use the information to create customized curriculum strategies, inspire teachers, and set long-term goals for all their schools: elementary, junior/senior and alternate.

From co-coordinators to coaches

In education circles, the term for an educator with specialized knowledge in reading or mathematics instruction is "literacy or numeracy co-coordinator." But those labels didn't stick at Ermineskin. "Recently we changed their title to ‘coaches,'" says Director of Student Services, Sanila Mehal. "It has a more hands-on, motivational feel."

"It's a pretty accurate job description," says literacy coach Jennifer Langford.

She has a point. Just as the coaching staff of a hockey team sits down before the start of the season to look over team stats and make lineup decisions, Langford and numeracy coach Trina Ertman review assessment results. They sit down with a team of teachers, administrators, the special education coordinator and counselors and they decide where approximately 1,000 kids should be placed based on achievement trends for individual students, classes, cohorts and entire schools. It's all in the data. With FNSSP funding, Ermineskin was able to implement the Dossier Information System that makes all this analysis and careful planning possible.

Rich data yields rich insights

Edmonton-based Intellimedia Inc. created the Dossier Information System to manage and aggregate student, school and staff information. The software generates a wide variety of reports, vividly presented in graphs and charts. A single report can display many layers of data that help identify trends in enrolment, attendance and achievement.

PAT Test Trends
Text Description for the chart: School Graduates, generated by the Dossier Information System

These are the numbers of students per school year for each of the three categories: Diploma, Achievement and Completion:

School graduates chart showing improvement in graduation rates from 2003 to 2012. Graduation rates jumped from 2 students in 2003 to 18 students in 2012.

  • 2003 - 1 Diploma, 1 Achievement
  • 2004 - 2 Diploma, 2 Completion
  • 2005 - 4 Diploma, 1 Completion
  • 2006 - 9 Diploma
  • 2007 - 5 Diploma, 4 Achievement
  • 2008 - 10 Diploma, 1 Achievement
  • 2009 - 8 Diploma, 3 Achievement, 1 Completion
  • 2010 - 10 Diploma, 3 Achievement, 1 Completion
  • 2011 - 11 Diploma, 5 Achievement, 1 Completion
  • 2012 - 10 Diploma, 8 Completion

Intellimedia principal Ahmad Jawad explains, "There can be hundreds of data points for each student, coming from many sources and systems that don't talk to each other." Dossier collects all that information in a central database. It's accessible to every teacher, principal, counselor and administrator in the board to help make evidence-based decisions at every level.

"The insights are real," says Jawad. "The system isn't about the software, it's about the people using it."

Ermineskin's coaches are data interpreters. They use individual profiles to track student growth and investigate any problems. These learner profiles provide clear snapshots of student success that, over time, form a bigger picture of educational effectiveness. Ertman and Langford translate the trends they observe into suggestions for curriculum changes and new teaching methods.

During the school year, the coaches work with 50 Ermineskin teachers, both individually and in professional learning communities, to build instructional skills. They log dozens of classroom hours. They sit in on lessons and teach model classes, demonstrating new programs or techniques to teachers.

The coaches also work closely with the Cree Language and Cultural Co-coordinator and the Special Education Coordinator to craft individual learning programs for students that need them.

Checking in, looking ahead

Tried, tested and true.

At the Ermineskin head office, Ertman and Langford maintain a bulletin board that's colour-coded to track their daily and weekly contacts with every teacher in the three schools. "We want to make sure that everyone is being supported, without overwhelming anyone," says Ertman.

The coaches, the director of student services and the school principals meet regularly with Ahmad Jawad from Intellimedia to offer feedback on the data collection process and user interface. Call it a tech check-up. After three years using the Dossier system and seeing long-term trends emerge, the staff is always excited to find new uses for the data.

"I'm a numbers person, obviously," says Ertman. "I really love to see the data tell the story."

Langford points out that, "The data gives teachers real insight when they are looking at a new group of students and how they achieved in previous years. It lets teachers be consistent in their expectations."

Those expectations are rising every year. Administrators proudly point to Provincial Achievement Test (PAT) data showing that, in 2009, 41.3 percent of Ermineskin Grade 3 students taking the Language Arts tests achieved an "acceptable" result. In 2012, 62.9 percent of Grade 6 students achieved an "acceptable" result. That's a 21.6 percent improvement for a single student cohort. It also represents a 37.5 percent increase in that testing category since 2009, the year Ermineskin began receiving FNSSP funding.

Text Description for the charts: Provincial Achievement Test for LA6, and Provincial Achievement Test generated by the Dossier Information System.

PAT results for LA 6 (students who wrote the test), improvement of 37.9 % in the last four years for LA6:

  • 2012- 62.9 % acceptable
  • 2011- 35.0 % acceptable
  • 2010- 29.3 % acceptable
  • 2009- 25.0 % acceptable

LA3 2009 Test is 41.3% Acceptable - LA6 2012 62.9% a measurable increase of of 21.6% for same student cohort , retention rates in Elementary is over 80% and reach 90% in some grades.

Out of a total of 72 students, 62 wrote the Provincial Achievement Test for Language Art for grade 6. Out of these, 2 students got the score of excellence, 37 students got the score of acceptable, 23 students did not meet the acceptable score and 10 students did not participate.

PAT results in mathematics are also promising. In 2012, the Grade 6 results surpassed board benchmarks by three percent. Ertman is optimistic that math scores will rise even higher as students' literacy skills improve. She points out, "A student that can read and really comprehend the questions on her math test is better equipped to do the calculations correctly."

Coaches are teachers, too

The coaching initiative was a top priority for Ermineskin's FNSSP funding. It's been an enormous success. Asked whether they would have wanted access to a coach during their own classroom teaching days, Mehal, Ertman and Langford literally shout, "Yes!"

"Coaches make the school more collaborative," says Ertman. "Teachers see us as another avenue for support and leadership—people advocating for them and for the students."

Mehal agrees. "Teachers really feel empowered by the coaching. They see that their work is highly valued and that we're investing in improving their skills. It's a real validation of their profession.

"The teachers are open and waiting to talk to us," adds Langford. "When we walk down the hall, we're stopped by three or four different teachers with requests or comments for us. The teachers really want to learn and they communicate that eagerness to their students. It's really something to celebrate."

After all, celebrating victory is one of the greatest rewards of being a coach.


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