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A new program in the Surrey School District is opening up more avenues for Indigenous students considering a career in education.
Called Tah-tul-ut Indigenous Education Pathways, the program is in partnership with Simon Fraser University and designed to help Indigenous students get a head start on working as an educator.
"We wanted to open up any doors to Indigenous students who may be interested in exploring a path towards working in education and wanted to make that easy and accessible," explained Mark Flynn, Principal of Careers Education at Surrey Schools.
On top of completing their Grade 12 courses in their final year, students in the program will take a full-credit course in the Faculty of Education at SFU, Intro to Reflective Practice. The course is designed to explore and discover how Indigenous identity can help shape the work of educators. In their second semester of Grade 12, students will take the five-month Education Assistant (EA) program through Surrey College, and be a certified Education Assistant with a specialized focus in Indigenous education.
"So not only can they complete an SFU course and begin post-secondary education early, but they also receive EA training and, if they later decide they want to continue on in post-secondary and work towards becoming a teacher, we encourage them to do that," said Flynn, adding that ideally, the students would then become Surrey Schools employees and work with and encourage other Indigenous students.
According to Gordon Powell, recently retired Principal of Aboriginal Education, while the EA program at Surrey College is a program designed to train and certify EAs, it's the additional SFU course that makes the Tah-tul-ut Indigenous Education Pathways program unique.
"It shines a spotlight on developing understanding of what it means to be an urban Indigenous person, and how Aboriginal identity can help inform their practice," he explained. "This in turn, allows them greater understanding when working with Indigenous children and youth during the course of their work."
Having kicked off its inaugural semester in September, the first group of students is currently attending classes and will graduate in the summer of 2021.
"The idea is that at the end of their practicum, if they're successful, they can apply to Surrey Schools to work as an EA, and it is a great way to get into the field," said Powell, adding that SFU's professional development program for teachers also allows participants of this program to "fast-track" their way to becoming a teacher. "So for those who are interested, they can chip away at their course credits and enter into this laddering program to become a teacher."
Asked of the cultural significance of the program, Powell said it's important for Indigenous students to see themselves reflected in mentorship and teaching positions.
"Surrey has approximately 3,100 Indigenous students, but very few of those kids are from the local nations," explained Powell. "Families that have moved here, they're not in their traditional territory, they may or may not be closely connected to their traditions, so for some kids there's a bit of disconnect… so we thought this might be an opportunity to help support that as well."
Flynn hopes the program will become self-sustaining, so that as more students participate year after year, the district will see more Indigenous staff hired as a result.
"Our hope is that these students will come back into our system and serve as role models and inspire our other Indigenous students."
To learn more about the Tah-tul-ut Indigenous Education Pathway program, click here.
* A public information session for interested parents and students will also be held virtually on April 15 at 6:30 p.m. via Microsoft Teams and will be available to watch here.