By Siobhan Cole
It might be hard for some of us to reach back into our memories and recall our high school days with anything more than a fond haziness, but something many people can agree upon is this: no one took high school seriously enough. Many of us came from good homes, with every possible opportunity available: good schools, safe neighborhoods, clean clothes, and delicious things to eat in the fridge. We may have started putting in more of an effort when we started thinking about colleges and universities; but mostly it was a place where we hung out as much as possible with friends, planned/attended dances, and devised creative ways to skip class. Perhaps, we occasionally studied for tests. Maybe some of us got lucky, and sailed through, making good grades with minimal effort.
For those who had even less opportunities, such as those in Indigenous communities, the gap is ever-widening. Sixty-four per cent of food bank users are Aboriginal, and one in two Status First Nations children live in poverty. Families who have trouble putting food on the table aren’t going to be able to afford post-secondary, and there is enough research on the link between education/difficulty concentrating in school and hunger that many schools have implemented a breakfast program. That isn’t enough. According to statistics from OpenCanada, “in 2011, the post-secondary education graduation rate of First Nations youth was only 35.3 per cent. Compare this to the 78 per cent graduation of their non-Indigenous counterparts.”
That said, Dr. Sandra Jarvis-Selinger is someone who is aiming to make students realize that choices matter, especially in high school. Currently Associate Dean – Academic at UBC, Dr. Jarvis-Selinger says that education is a chance to create good, positive change. “It helps people perspective shift,” she adds.
As a life-long champion of technology-enabled learning, she launched Aboriginal eMentoring BC in 2010, along with some colleagues. As described on its site, the program “is an online mentoring program that connects Aboriginal youth with mentors in post-secondary programs across British Columbia. Our mission is to support Aboriginal youth build unique pathways to success through online mentoring. We believe every Aboriginal youth should have the preparation and access to university or college education.”
“We were going into schools”, says Dr. Jarvis-Selinger, “and speaking to grade 12 students about health sciences programs at UBC. However, we found that many of them hadn’t taken grade 10 science, or what we’ve referred to as the ‘gateway course’. Then, a group of us realized that having the conversation earlier, say, pairing a 15-year-old student with a 19-year-old, would be a lot more effective and give students more potential to choose at graduation.”
Education is constantly a formative experience in someone’s life, and Dr. Jarvis-Selinger mentions that there are many critical transition periods – elementary to high school, high school to college, and so on. “I want to be like the grandmother of eMentoring”, she says. “They don’t have to live with me, but I want to know everything going on in their lives.”
The program’s reach continues to spread, and like the ripples in a pond, the impact is far-reaching. Recently, Canadian Living did an interview, and spoke to one of the participants. "E-mentoring changed my life," says Rae-Anne LeBrun, 19, now enrolled in the child and youth care counselling program at Douglas College in Coquitlam, B.C. "I was actually homeless when I was in the program. I got to learn who I was as a person, and also to talk about how I felt with people who accepted me and didn't judge me. They wanted to help me along my journey."
On how she feels about her legacy, Dr. Jarvis-Selinger is modest. “If I look back at the things I no longer have a hand in, it’s how I’ve been able to lend an educational voice. Education doesn’t have to be territorial; it’s just about people coming together”.
** Statistics courtesy of Canada Without Poverty and OpenCanada