The AbOut Program of Learning Alternatives in Nanaimo (SD#68) demonstrates this deep commitment in a way that builds unique opportunities for their community of learners. AbOut stands for Aboriginal Outreach -- it is an alternative learning program specifically geared toward vulnerable Grade 9 - 12 students who may otherwise leave the school system. The program allows students to focus on completing all of their course requirements for graduation.
The inquiry team at AbOut, lead by Brett Hancock (Program Teacher), often heard feedback from students that many mainstream classrooms did not feel inclusive and students struggled to feel engaged and excited about learning. Building on this feedback, the team developed their inquiry for the 2013 - 2014 school year:
“Will students having the ability to explore a number of possible occupations in Outdoor Education and Sustainable Living, generate a stronger interest in pursuing post-secondary education and/or immediate employment?”
And build opportunities they did. Through the AbOut program, students were given the chance to move out into the community and participate in experiential learning where they could build skills and learn about potential career options, such as construction, farming, landscape maintenance and carving. (Check out the media coverage here and here!). In addition to building employable skills, these experiences help foster a greater self-esteem, confidence and vision to set goals for the future. As Brett notes in his AESN case study, "at the beginning of the school year there were 30 students enrolled in the ABOUT Program and none had employment and none of our grade 12’s wanted to pursue post-secondary education for 2014-2015. By the end of the year we had 45 students in the program! At our June Awards, we celebrated that 12 students were currently employed and 5 students were enrolled to attend Vancouver Island University this upcoming September! We celebrated the success of our students and hope to use our success to motivate others in our school building to engage in an inquiry question."
Arguably, some of the success of this initiative stems from the inquiry team's commitment to building community partnerships to help contribute to the breadth of learning opportunities available to the students. The AbOut program worked with a number of local groups, including the Snuneymuxw First Nation, Snaw-Naw-As First Nation, Tillicum Lelum Friendship Center, and the Young Professionals of Nanaimo, as a means of connecting students to mentors and building long-term, supportive relationships.
With the success of the program being celebrated through the local media (be sure to watch the video!), the students' level of engagement also increased. As Brett notes "the spark that we had started in September of 2013 began to grow into a fire of passion!"
This success certainly does need to be celebrated -- congratulations to the AbOut team and their commitment to ensuring that every learner crosses the stage with dignity, purpose, curiosity and options. Check out this case study and others on the NOII website.