In particular, Andrea was intrigued by the Aboriginal tradition of blanketing ceremonies at times of transition in life, and how this tradition might be engaged with the Richmond school community. A blanket ceremony seemed a great way to address their inquiry question focused on transitions for their Aboriginal students and linked to the Enhancement Agreement goals of making transitions between levels of education easier and more meaningful for Aboriginal students :
“How do we best support the transition from elementary to secondary school for our Aboriginal students in such a way that they are connected to their educational experiences, and can see a purpose for their current school experiences, thus gaining clarity about their future beyond graduation?”
Thus, the first Grade 8 Transitions Ceremony and Dinner was born, taking place on November 4th at Brighouse Learning Centre in Richmond. The event was attended by most of the self-identified Grade 8 First Nations students in the Richmond School District, as well as district administrative and counseling teams, educators, administrators, parents and siblings.
Elder “Uncle” Shane Pointe from the Musqueam community graciously led the ceremony, blessing the Grade 8 students’ transition from being children to young adults. As one attendee noted about the ceremony:
“Mr. Pointe chanted to clear the area of negative thoughts, prepared the area with positive energy, placed cedar boughs on the floors for the students to stand on to honour them, and helped families drape beautiful wool blankets (that they were able to keep) around students to honour them in their new roles... He let them know that the school communities along with their families were there to support them, where and how to look for help and continued to remind them how special they are and proud they should feel of their heritage and themselves as they move forward.”
What a wonderful way to honour and celebrate students as they move from elementary to secondary school, and to help ensure that they feel supported through this transition and beyond. Andrea noted that this was also a wonderful opportunity for the school community to connect with families in a meaningful way, developing a rich support system for students, particularly in times of struggle or when facing obstacles at school, at home, or in the community.
And we know that this is crucial for student well-being. We know that Network schools learn much during the ‘scanning’ phase of developing their inquiry focus by asking the question: “Can every learner name at least two adults in the school building who believe he or she will be a success in life?” This ceremony not only addresses this question through indigenous ways of knowing, but it makes sure that students are overtly aware of the support system available to them as they migrate through secondary school and beyond.
As we move through the inquiry cycle it is important to continue to ask “What is going on for our learners? How do we know? Why does this matter?” By developing a close relationship with learners right from the outset, these questions (and answers) may become easier to address.
Andrea notes that Richmond will be engaging in the blanketing ceremony again in June, on a larger scale, in recognizing and acknowledging the Grade 7s and 12s in their achievements, and helping them prepare for their next transitions in life. What an impactful way to celebrate and honour students.