Coast Mountain School District (CMSD) is showing a lower high school graduation rate than the provincial average, despite seeing an overall increase in graduation rates during the last decade.
The provincial graduation rate is 81 per cent, while the CMSD is 70 per cent, according to the Ministry of Education.
And the graduation rate for aboriginal students in the CMSD is 50.1 per cent, also below the provincial average of 54 per cent, but a jump from years previous.
“I think there are a lot of challenges in our area,” said Nancy Wells, superintendent with CMSD.
Such challenges include keeping students motivated to stay in school until graduation, Wells said.
But a focus on aboriginal learning has translated into the aboriginal graduation rate seeing the biggest improvement during the last few years. Between the 2011 to 2012 school year, aboriginal graduation rates jumped from 45.8 per cent to 50.1 per cent.
“Absolute credit to Cheryl (Cheryl Sebastian, Director of Instruction of Aboriginal Education in CMSD),” Wells said.
On June 19, 2013 the CMSD passed their Achievement Contract for the 2013/2014 school year. In this four-part contract, increasing secondary school completion rates for all students is identified.
The school district expects to achieve higher completion rates through strategies that increase attendance and decrease suspensions and school withdrawals, and introducing alternate programs in the Hazeltons where attendance rates are generally poor for secondary school students.
But a number of efforts have already been adopted in the push to increase graduation rates for all students, she said, noting that the middle school system was adopted for this reason.
CMSD also piloted a trades program this year which is expected to increase graduation rates. Beginning in Grade 10, (or year one of the graduation program), students sample all trades offered through Northwest Community College in order to get a better sense of what they’d like to study in post secondary and plan their time tables accordingly.
“The opportunities are here for them to walk into really good jobs,” Wells said.
Wells emphasized the importance of completing high school, even in a region where jobs are available to young people without their dogwood diploma. The days of not finishing high school and getting a job at the mill are over, she explained.
“My belief is that every child deserves to finish school with dignity and with the skills to either go to post-secondary or work and to become a contributing member of society,” Wells said.
“The school district’s role is to help families understand the importance of graduating with the ability to attend post-secondary.”
According to a report by the BC Teachers’ Federation, completing a high school diploma increases a persons employability by double, and has been shown to increase life expectancy by 9.2 years.
As for other northwest districts, the Stikine saw a 52 per cent graduation rate for all students, and a 37 per cent graduation rate for aboriginal students. And in Prince Rupert there is an overall 70 per cent graduation rate with a 48 per cent graduation rate for aboriginal students.