The Lakehead District Public School board says the growing popularity of its Native Studies and Native Language programs has resulted in an expansion to additional schools.
Already provided at each of the board's four high schools and three elementary schools (Algonquin, Ecole Gron Morgan and the school in Armstrong,) instruction in Ojibwe will soon be provided at three more elementary schools.
Superintendent of Education Sherri-Lynne Pharand told tbnewswatch.com that at the outset, "the schools that were chosen had brought forward an interest from the parent community, so we began the program there as a pilot. The pilot quickly grew to include many students," and is now about to be introduced at McKellar Park, Ogden and Sherbrooke elementary schools.
Pharand said that the board is just in the process of hiring for the expansion, and hopes to complete the hiring process by the end of the month.
Current combined enrollment in all the Language and Studies programs is 613, including 415 First Nations students, and 198 non-First Nations students. That represents 30 more students in elementary programs over the past year and 288 more in secondary school programs over the past two years.
In the native language program, students learn how to speak Ojibwe. In the native studies program, Pharand said, learning "happens across many subject areas and many disciplines. For example Grade 9 Visual Arts looks at artists who are famous in the Aboriginal style of art...paintings, beadwork and all the other different types of First Nations art."
Native studies also take place in areas such as Social Studies, Aboriginal English literature, and Aboriginal beliefs and values, at different grade levels.
Assessing the popularity of Native Language and Native Studies programs, Pharand said that "Certainly they've increased since we began. We began with one section of native language in each of our high schools. Particularly at the high school level, the course and its expansion is driven by student choice."
She said that she expects the growth trend to continue. "And at the elementary (level,) we anticipate that the language courses will continue to expand as well. They've grown each year that we've offered them, and now that we're looking to move to the other side of the city with language programs, we believe that they will continue to expand there."
Pharand attributes the increasing enrollment to a variety of factors.
"One is that as students have the opportunity to be made aware of the programs, there's a growing interest; they find that they are interesting to them. As you know, I believe that Thunder Bay also has an increasing First Nation population, and so that encourages both our First Nations learners and our non-First Nations learners to want to take courses to enhance their own knowledge, so I think we'll continue to see a growth."
Pharand said she believes that the programs provide the opportunity for all kids to not only learn the Ojibwe language but to also learn about different parts of the First Nations culture.
"The more that we learn about one another, the better it makes all of us," she concluded.
Fourteen teachers currently provide instruction in the various programs. Pharand said applicants are screened with the aid of a First Nation elder to ensure their proficiency.