Success from Following Their Voices reported to Sask Rivers board

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald The Saskatchewan Rivers School Division board of education met at the Education Centre in September

Teachers and administrators at Ecole Arthur Pechey School say they’re seeing improvements thanks to the Following their Voices initiative.

Arthur Pechey is one of the few elementary schools using the program, which was created to help raise the educational achievement of First Nations, Metis and Inuit (FNMI) students. It focuses on building better relationships between students and teachers, and also creating a support structure for teachers trying to create safe, well-managed learning environments.

Principal Brandi Sparboe said the school was a good fit because it has a near 50/50 split of FNMI and non-FNMI students.

“We believed that the work had to start in our building, because of that whole idea of us all being treaty people,” Sparboe said

“In the 2018-2019 school year our school team started really exploring the idea of becoming a Following their Voices school. We knew that it was a good fit for us, and there weren’t, at that time, many elementary schools that were part of that initiative.”

Sparboe and other school staff gave a program update on Sask. Rivers board of education during their regular meeting on Monday.

The update was part of the Student Achievement Accountability Report presented by superintendent Jennifer Hingley. Joining Hingley and Sparboe were classroom teacher and dreamcatcher coach Lacey Primeau, teacher and Following Their Voices school facilitator Shea Pilon and classroom teacher and Following Their Voices school facilitator Carson Mercredi as well as Math instructional coach Darlana Harding.

The purpose of the presentation, Hingley said, was to highlight different aspects of the accountability reports for the board.

Sparboe outlined how the school has developed a team approach, and shared their work in math and Following their Voices. She said the they’ve worked hard to create a true sense of belonging for students and the whole school community. That’s helped Arthur Pechey students become more successful, although it hasn’t been without challenges.

Sparboe said reopening after the COVID-19 shutdown was difficult, and she credited the staff and Arthur Pechey school community for the program’s success.

“What we had in our favour was we were so passionate, so determined,” Sparboe explained. “We worked so well as a team.

“We had a lot of work to do, but we knew that we were up for it and that we had the right people in place, both in terms of their prior knowledge and their dedication to our school goals.”

One key was reteaching and retesting to improve student performance. They said that it was not a complete success in all ways, but the data has improved significantly.

“Two programs, one common goal, 100 per cent success,” Sparboe said.

“We started with two programs by the end of the year we had one, we were working together and it was successful,” she added.

Another point of pride was the creation of clan system at the school which built a sense of pride among the student body. There is friendly competition in the clan groups that gives everyone a sense of belonging.

Sparboe credited the passion of Pilon and Mercredi for the success in turning around a significant gap in achievement between FNMI and non-FNMI students at Pechey. Entering the last school year only 15 per cent FN students Kindergarten to 8 were meeting or exceeding the outcomes, while non FNMI were at 80 per cent.

Sparboe said there was frequent communication with teachers about where each student placed, and where they needed to grow.

The school also had allies in the Ministry of Education, who championed the school’s program, and gave them guidance where needed.

Pilon said it’s been a worthwhile journey, one that other schools will benefit from.

“The work we are doing now is going to impact future elementary schools so that’s really exciting,” Pilon said.

To explain the success, they showed videos of students, staff and the School Community Council (SCC). The message was from SCC outgoing chair Lisa Howden.

They shared student voices about the success and how they improved throughout the year.

The 2021-22 school year wasn’t the first time Arthur Pechey tried to get involved in the Following their Voices initiative. They also applied for the 2018-19 year, but were unsuccessful. They applied again, and were accepted in May 2020.

“We were thrilled but we also knew we had our work cut out for us,” Sparboe said.