The only people facing more obstacles than the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board’s effort to retask the Pinewood School site, may be the First Nations high school students from remote communities who come to Dryden and other urban settings to begin their high school studies.
The board has smartly set a date for a public information session — Monday, April 30, 6:30 p.m. at Pinewood School — to offer the public details on its concept to ease the transition to the urban school setting for First Nations youth who commonly emerge from the reserve setting at an academic disadvantage — a plan that will no doubt meet some ‘not in my backyard’ opposition.
I’m expecting a lot from this meeting. In particular, I’m interested to see how the board will distance this concept from the term ‘residential school’ — for which it fits the basic descriptor.
For any Canadian who has borne witness to the painful legacy of cultural genocide and $1.9 billion in survivor compensation, the idea of stacking over 70 First Nations kids from remote communities four to a room in a decommissioned urban school is not an idea that is entirely free of red flags.
It’s not exactly Hogwarts.
That said, how else do you approach the problem? The education outcome gap between First Nations and non-First Nations is one of the most despicable social ills that we experience in Northern Ontario. It’s also a problem that we think we can solve, or at least diminish significantly to the betterment of a new generation of students.
Residency and supervision seems like the crux of the issue, the unavoidable component of schooling students who are far away from home.
I would hope this meeting might bring forth First Nations parent perspectives on the plan.
Unless we’re all willing to billet a student, a group living and learning environment is how this program will manifest itself.
That’s a lot to ask of a neighbourhood — to host dozens of teens in a group living situation.
Let’s not pretend for one second that an element of racial prejudice does not permeate this discussion. In my talks with residents, I have met with two distinct attitudes — those who have already made up their mind about what this plan will mean for Dryden and those who despite concerns, hold a sincere hope that the community can play a role in making a positive difference in some kids’ lives.
Personally, I count myself among the latter. I want this idea to succeed. I want Dryden to take a chance on something a little bit scary on the off chance it might tear down some of the invisible social and institutional walls that separate native and non-native people in this community. It is a barrier to progress that holds us all back.
The April 30 meeting, at the very least, will be chance to confront the complicated spectrum of feelings towards this project and our community in a larger sense.