Above: Makiyah recently earned the final credits for her Ontario Secondary School Diploma.

Nations/New Start Program Move Enhances Culturally Relevant Learning

TUESDAY, FEB. 21, 2023


ast month, Makiyah, a student in the Nations/New Start program, earned the final credits needed to complete the Ontario Secondary School Diploma, an impressive feat at any time, but one that followed some personal challenges and the disruptions of a global pandemic to add to its significance. 

Above: An informational display highlights a lunch-and-learn opportunity at SNP.

“Honestly, if I hadn’t come to this program, I don’t think I would have finished school,” she said of the program that boasts community-based learning with more one-on-one supports, and the chance to pursue experiential and culturally relevant opportunities. “Teachers here can have an open and vulnerable conversation with you, and that’s helped me not doubt myself and find the supports I need.” 

Makiyah now has the task of deciding on a post-secondary program to pursue this fall, and is looking at furthering her education in law and policing. She described the atmosphere of learning in the Nations/New Start program as feeling “like home.” And now the program itself has a new home at Six Nations Polytechnic Centre for Excellence (SNP) in Ohsweken. Last year, Grand Erie received Ministry of Education approval through the Capital and Business Support Division to proceed with a lease to operate its Nations/New Start program at SNP. This semester marks the first that program staff and students will be learning in the modern educational facility. 

“The move means students will have access to enhanced learning opportunities that make the program really unique in Grand Erie,” said JoAnna Roberto, Director of Education. “Being on campus means learners have the Indigenous Knowledge Centre available to them, as well as the chance to take part in social events, and onsite tutoring and counselling services to increase engagement in learning with Indigenous peoples and perspectives, and also open up pathways to post-secondary options.” 

On any given day, a lunch-and-learn or drop-in workshop might offer an additional learning opportunity or chance to connect with Indigenous ways of knowing. These events enhance the curriculum, and provide insights into student life on a post-secondary campus, helping learners envision some of the options beyond secondary school. 

“Students will have the opportunity to see post-secondary programs in action and to experience a community based culturally supportive post-secondary learning environment,” said Rebecca Jamieson, President and CEO of SNP. “We hope this will inspire students to seek out future opportunities for their continued learning journey.”

The potential of the program’s new location, and the staff members who build a sense of learning, well-being and belonging, is part of what makes it a unique opportunity for Grand Erie students.  

“I know for me, learning about my culture and my language has informed my worldview – how I see the world and present myself in it – so I think for our youth in the program, having a connection to community resources and community people allows a deeper understanding of who they are,” said Jessa Laight, a teacher in the Nations/New Start program. “There are cultural ways to approach relationships, conflicts, and all of those things – we don’t have to rely on other people’s worldviews and systems to solve problems. We can do that with our own knowledge, so that’s why it’s really important to have access to that knowledge.” 

The move to SNP furthers a number of strategic goals related to the educational experiences of Indigenous students in Grand Erie. The board’s Annual Learning and Operating Plan works to facilitate learning about contemporary and traditional First Nations, Metis, and Inuit cultures, histories and perspectives, while also increasing successful transitions to post-graduation opportunities. The board’s Multi-Year Strategic Plan aims to build a culture of belonging to support equitable, inclusive and responsive environments for each learner. 

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