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Showing up counts, superintendent says
Roy Cole is going door-to-door to raise Northerners' education levels

Kira Curtis
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, March 10, 2011

INUVIK - This month you'll rarely catch Roy Cole sitting behind his desk pushing paperwork and analyzing statistics - he's headed to the front lines.

NNSL photo/graphic

Beaufort Delta Education Council superintendent Roy Cole is armed with stats and a plan to work with leaders and parents to close the educational gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal students. - Kira Curtis/NNSL photo

Parents should get the tea, toast and Cheez Whiz ready; the Beaufort Delta Education Council superintendent is knocking on doors in Inuvik to meet with parents and families face-to-face.

His goal is to work with these families to raise the education level of students in the North, particularly those of aboriginal students.

"The aboriginal student is as bright as, and in many cases brighter, than the non-aboriginal student, but there are other factors," Cole said in a presentation he gave to town council on Monday, March 7.

"Fifty-five per cent of aboriginal students in Grade 3 in the Northwest Territories are achieving an acceptable standard in English language arts compared to 85 per cent of non-aboriginal students," Cole explained, adding that by the time the students reach Grade 9 the percentage drops to 33 per cent in aboriginal students but only 81 per cent in non-aboriginal.

The main reason for this Cole said is attendance.

"This is the message I'm trying to get parents and students and community leaders," Cole said passionately, "our biggest issue in our schools is student attendance, and you know full well if the students aren't in attendance then they're not going to be achieving."

Cole said it is estimated the average aboriginal student in the Northwest Territories misses 41 days of school each year.

"This means by the end of Grade 9 these students have missed two years of schooling," Cole said. "If you were going to miss two years of school, you can't expect a student then to go onto Grade 10 and be successful."

Cole emphasized this is about closing the gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal students and has nothing to do with intelligence. He spoke to the room with passion as he went over the statistics of student attendance in our community.

"The North is asking for its own teachers, its own nurses, its own doctors, its own lawyers, et cetera, et cetera," Cole said, "and the North can generate that, we do have the brain power to do it, but we're not keeping the kids in school."

He went on to say that the worst attendance is in Kindergarten, followed by Grade 1.

"It's the very, very, very foundation of everything," Cole said, "Kindergarten, Grade 1, is as important as Grade 12."

And Cole said it's not just full days missed.

"Another problem that we have in our schools, and we have it here in Inuvik, is students turning up late," Cole said.

If a student missed 20 minutes in the morning and another 20 in the afternoon, which Cole says is quite common, by the time that student finishes Grade 9 they have missed a year of school just through tardiness.

Cole said many students have already missed three years of schooling before they've even reached Grade 10.

"Then we expect to put them in Grade 10 and expect them to do well, it doesn't make sense."

So, Cole is pounding the pavement, so to speak, this month and visiting the homes of families to talk to them and work with them to keep kids in school.

"I'm going to walk into homes and I'm going to sit down at the kitchen table and I'm going to talk about attendance, and I'm going to talk about achievement," he said.

Cole wants to see Northerners continue on to post secondary schools and be successful.

Councillor Terry Halifax made a special point of thanking Cole for speaking to council and for making the effort to go visit families.

"I appreciate that he's going out into the communities," Halifax said." There's only so much that teachers can do."

Cole said Inuvik's two schools have resources comparable to southern schools and ample staffing. He added none of the schools in the Beaufort Delta are understaffed and Inuvik has the highest level of trained substitute teachers in the region.

"But if they're not there, they can't learn," Cole said, "we can only teach them when they're there. We need to educate our people."

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