Kwak’waka’wakw drummers get attendees on their feed during the learning partnership announcement at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, B.C. on Wednesday. (Submitted photo/ Vancouver Island University)

Yukon College gets $4.6 M to help Indigenous students

Programs aim to attract 300 new students

A new Yukon College program aims to increase the number of Indigenous Yukoners going to the school and help them graduate.

Over five years the college hopes the new money will bring in 300 more Indigenous students to post-secondary education.

The $4.6 million came from the Mastercard Foundation. This is the first time this organization — which normally focuses on students in Africa — has given funding to a Canadian institution.

Chief Financial Officer Peggy Woo said the foundation spent more than a year talking with post-secondary institutions around Canada discussing the best way to help Indigenous students.

It started after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called on educational institutions and all sectors of society to get involved, she said.

“(Yukon College) came across as an institution that’s already very engaged with Indigenous communities in supporting young learners to pursue post-secondary education,” Woo said.

“They also respect and value the culture and knowledge of Indigenous elders. They have them on campus, they share the foundation’s vision and values.”

Another $13.5 million went to Vancouver Island University.

The Yukon’s plans for this money have all been approved by the college’s President’s Advisory Council on First Nations Initiatives which includes education staff from each of the 14 Yukon First Nations, said Shelagh Rowles, who helped plan for the money.

It’s being used to resurrect two positions aimed at helping students in the communities. It’s also going towards a new role targeting students coming out of the justice system or government care, to putting more programs online and to working with students in high school.

The two new staff are being hired to travel between the communities. One will focus on helping students academically and the other will work on other barriers keeping them from class. That could be something like helping them find childcare, Rowles said.

“What we realized is that although this position was available in Whitehorse it really wasn’t available in communities.”

For five years, Margot Neely had a similar role but the funding for that ran out about a year and a half ago. The local First Nations would identify students in need, she said.

“Maybe (they’re) on social assistance, maybe (they) have graduated from Grade 12 but they were not doing anything, and they would ask us to come out and help with doing up a career pathway for them or we would help support them to get ready to get into a program.”

She estimates they saw 400 students in the communities but when the funding ran out there was little follow-up. She’s now also involved in planning for the new money.

Rowles said the college wants to build on the success of that original program.

Yukon College has already hired a new transition worker. That person is in charge of working with would-be students coming out of the justice system or government care to help them get into post secondary education.

“We know that Yukon has one of the highest Indigenous incarceration rates in the country,” Rowles said.

“We know that a big part of people finding their way is looking at post-secondary, looking at ways they might be able to get into work, find some confidence to get a job.”

Rowles said the college first considered only working with people coming out of jail but decided to expand the role to include young people in government care.

The idea is to try and get them involved in school before they are involved with the justice system, she said.

The college will be working with its community liaison officers, the First Nations and the college staff already at the jail to identify people who might be in need of help.

“We’re trying to be as intentional with our outreach as we can,” Neely said. “It’s working with the various governments as best we can.”

Starting in the fall of 2018 the college plans to have two new online certificate programs up and running.

“We know that there are a whole bunch of people living in rural Yukon that actually have the prerequisites to get into post secondary programs, they have the interest. But because of life circumstances … they’re not in a position to relocate,” Rowles said.

“We don’t have that many post-secondary programs, full programs, available out there.”

The office administration certificate, which is currently taught at the Whitehorse campus, is being put online.

“We’ve heard from First Nations governments and education departments that they really have a need for office admin training,” Rowles said.

The second certificate is being created from scratch to train employment training officers and community education liaison co-ordinators who work for each of the Yukon First Nations.

Lastly the college plans to spend some of the money working with high school students.

Dubbed Youth University, this program will ”reach out to young people that are in school, or have just recently dropped out,” Rowles said.

“They still can be caught before they’re really too frustrated and alienated from the school system. We want to help them to see themselves as students.”

The college is still working out what the program will look like starting next year. Rowles said she expects initially it will be a “camp-like structure, something that’s fun and engaging for youth.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com