Saturday, June 20, 2009

NAT: Laguage Education

Nuu-chah-nulth language part of UES curriculum this fall
Grade fives to take part in pilot project that will add 90 minutes of second language instruction, aimed at increasing sense of belonging and mutual understanding
By Sarah Douziech, Westerly News, June 18, 2009

Students entering grade five this fall at Ucluelet Elementary School will be part of a pilot project that will teach them the Nuu-chah-nulth language.

Fourteen local First Nations comprise the Nuu-chah-nulth family and their language is considered in danger of extinction as very few people speak it; about 80 elders, according to Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council Chief Cliff Atleo.

The Nuu-chah-nulth language program will also be piloted at A.W. Neil Middle School in Port Alberni.

UES principal Jennifer Auld said the pilot is the result of six years of work on an Integrated Resource Package (IRP) or curriculum that she has been co-developing with another teacher in school district 84 (Gold River) and a linguist in Duncan.

While teaching high school in SD 84, Auld said she saw kids taking Nuu-chah-nulth in grades ten to 12, but they weren't getting credit for it.

Part of the reason for developing the language curriculum was to give kids a chance to get credit for learning the second language.

Auld did her Masters thesis on how to improve sense of belonging for Aboriginal students in public schools by surveying kids in the three schools on the West Coast.

She found that kids who reported they did not have a sense of belonging in school spoke another language at home and it was often an Aboriginal language. She also found that kids who had a lower sense of belonging at school were often underachievers.

"I started to think maybe if they were learning more about themselves, being their language and culture at school, they would have more of a sense of belonging," Auld said.

Forty to 50 per cent of students in West Coast schools are of Aboriginal ancestry.

"Everyone is always talking about the gap; that Aboriginal kids have lower graduation rates and academic standings," Auld explained. "Rather than focus on improving the gap, let's focus on what's causing the gap."

The curriculum has been developed for grades five to 10 and teaches oral and written communication, but also incorporates an understanding of cultural influences and developing creative work, like songs or creative writing.

"Part of it that's really neat is every single grade has examples from a different dialect," Auld said.

Each of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations has their own specific dialect of the language.

UES students will have 90 minutes of Nuu-chah-nulth language curriculum taught to them per week which will include instruction from local elder, Barb Touchie on Mondays and instruction from two other language workers on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Grade fives will still be learning French as a second language next year, so to make room for the Nuu-chah-nulth program, 90 minutes less teaching time will be allocated to the math, science and technology categories.

Auld said the school is already teaching two and a half hours extra of science in particular and can afford to transfer the time to the new second language program.

SD-70's superintendent said the language program has been in the works for several years now, but initially faced resistance.

Cam Pinkerton, who also serves as the school district board's coordinator of Aboriginal education, said First Nations communities were reluctant to have their language taught in the public school system because of the negative connotation schools have for them.

"Many students come from homes where they are connected, either directly or indirectly, to residential school survivors, so there was always a bit of apprehension," he said.

Parents are the missing generation in terms of language learning, Pinkerton said. Elders know the language, but parents in the 25 to 40 age range don't, and they're learning as their children learn the language.

He likens the intention of the program with a similar program in New Zealand that helped revitalize Maori in the early 1980s.

Over time and in working closely with the First Nations communities, he said they now have permission from the communities to teach the language in the school system.

"This is the evolution of that process," he added. "It's quite a change from seven or eight years ago and this is the next step."

The project is co-funded by SD-84, SD-70 and the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.

One of the newest initiatives in language revitalization the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council is undertaking is establishing a two year training program at North Island College for future language teachers.

The council's language committee agreed to have a team of technical experts gather Nuu-chah-nulth language material, to be presented at a language symposium in the fall of 2009, according to Atleo.

"The symposium will assist with the development of a framework for the two year curriculum plan for the college," Atleo wrote in an email to the Westerly.

He said he sees both the language program at UES and the two year college program currently in development as important means to enhance the identities of Aboriginal people.

"The more we learn of our roots as a people, the greater the potential for powerful self-esteem," he added. "The knowledge of our roots includes our histories, our values and teachings, as well as fluency in our language."

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