Cree School Board works with community to help students succeed
Getting to the Cree Nation, spread out over 4,500 square miles in northern Quebec, requires a three-hour flight from Denver to Montreal and then another flight that takes between two and four hours to Northern Quebec, depending on which of the nine Cree villages you’re going to. But getting to the schools is not the only challenge—when McREL began working with the Cree School Board, which manages nine schools in the Cree Nation, the graduation rate was low, as were student attendance and punctuality.
In 2010, Principal Consultant Newton Hamilton began working with the K–12 Eastmain Wabannutao Eeyou School in Eastmain—the smallest coastal Cree village, with a population of 606 and accessible only by a gravel road—on Success in Sight’s comprehensive school improvement process. After six months of processing data, one solution became clear: Eastmain needed to increase family involvement so that students understood the value of their education. McREL worked with the school to tap into community resources, including the involvement of Band Officers (elected officers who are responsible for community activities and have the power to provide monetary resources).
The school leadership team wrote a letter and delivered a presentation to the Band Council, listing what they thought would make a difference for students, including increased parent involvement, children getting to bed at a proper time, and homework assistance. From Eastmain’s recommendations, the Band set forth a resolution limiting the schedules of the three most popular community activities: Bingo, hockey, and going to the arcade. The Band mandated that bingo would not start until 9:00 p.m., so that parents could help their children with homework; that hockey games and practices could only take place between 5:00‒9:00 p.m., so students could study after school; and the community arcade would not open until 9:00 p.m. “The resolution is a great example of how a school organized and motivated the community to make a change,” said Hamilton.
As the schools have learned to work together as a community and individual schools to work with their own community members, attendance and punctuality have increased, and the average graduation rate in the district had gone up by nearly 15 percentage points at the end of the 2011‒2012 school year. This significant improvement is a testament to the hard work and dedication of staff and the power of bringing a community together for a purpose.
The work at Eastmain School is only a snapshot of the much larger scope of work across all Cree Nation schools. It has taken a group effort to serve all nine communities of the Cree School Board. McREL consultants Kay Frunzi, Patti Davis, Vicki Foster, Kent Davis, and Andrew Kerr continue to work with all schools on school improvement, including Success in Sight trainings, curriculum development, and implementing, monitoring, and sustaining school initiatives.
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