Yukon First Nation Education Directorate members Bill Bennett, community engagement coordinator and Mobile Therapeutic Unit team lead, left, and Katherine Alexander, director of policy and analytics, speak to the News about the Mobile Therapeutic Unit that will provide education and health support to students in the communities. (yfned.ca)

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate members Bill Bennett, community engagement coordinator and Mobile Therapeutic Unit team lead, left, and Katherine Alexander, director of policy and analytics, speak to the News about the Mobile Therapeutic Unit that will provide education and health support to students in the communities. (yfned.ca)

Mobile Therapeutic Unit will bring education, health support to Indigenous rural students

The mobile unit will begin travelling to communities in the coming weeks

The Yukon First Nation Education Directorate is launching a Mobile Therapeutic Unit (MTU) that will provide education and health support to students in the communities.

“There’s a deep understanding throughout the territory that more resources need to be invested in the communities … and the MTU is the first step in that direction,” said Katherine Alexander, director of policy and analytics.

The MTU will staff a mental wellness team and experts in occupational therapy, speech language pathology, educational psychology, audiology and optometry.

The unit was launched in tandem with the directorate’s education conference this week. It’s funded by Jordan’s Principle, a federal initiative geared toward minimizing systemic inequalities facing Indigenous children. In the Yukon, it was well-documented in two reports by the Auditor General of Canada in 2009 and 2019 that First Nations children were not meeting the same level of academic success as non-Indigenous students.

That’s partially due to a lack of resources for rural students falling behind. The MTU hopes to close that gap, organizers explained.

“Students are not getting the services needed in order to complete their education,” said Bill Bennett, community engagement coordinator and MTU team lead.

Addressing the gap isn’t just about providing academic assistance, but also about supporting children who have experienced trauma and providing cultural education through a First Nations lens.

“Culture and language are the foundations of health and well-being for First Nations people, we all know that, and we know the holistic needs of a child must be met,” Bennett said.

The MTU’s mandate aligns with the priorities of Jordan’s Principle to challenge existing systemic barriers born from racism and colonialism, Bennett explained.

The MTU team will make introductory visits to the Yukon’s communities over the next few weeks to spread awareness of the available supports and assess each place’s priorities and needs.

“It’s really going to be responsive to the community needs,” Alexander said.

The team will sit down with educators, elders and families as a first step, then create a schedule to provide the supports requested. The program centres families as autonomous experts regarding the needs of their children.

“We’re here to provide allied health services, but we fundamentally believe that the parents in the community are the ones who really understand their children, their community, their priorities and goals,” Alexander said.

“We’re here to listen and to provide a service that is truly self-determined by them.”

The MTU has three occupational therapists on staff and is currently interviewing for a wellness team. Optometrists and audiologists will be hired on specific schedules through outside contracts.

Ted Hupé, President of the Yukon Teachers’ Association, told the News that students are in dire need of the extra support the MTU promises.

“It’s going to make a big difference…. I’m happy for our rural schools and our First Nation students because this is going to serve them better, it’s going to be more responsive,” Hupé said.

“They’re taking the bull by the horns, and doing the work that needs to be done.”

Hupé noted that the introduction of MTU services highlights that the Yukon government’s rural programming has been severely lacking.

The Department of Education has approximately one occupational therapist, one speech and language expert and approximately four educational psychologists, Hupé said.

“They’re stretched, they do not have the personnel to serve the territory very well,” he said, noting that some rural schools may only see one or two visits per year from those experts.

“It’s a bit embarrassing, I would be embarrassed if I were the Department of Education not being able to provide the same level of service to all children.”

Closing that gap and providing service is the end-game for the MTU, Bennett said.

“We want the children to succeed, we’re champions for the children and we look forward to working with Support Services. ”

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at gabrielle.plonka@yukon-news.com

EducationYukon First NationsYukon Teachers Association

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