Nine ADSS students are the first to complete the high school’s Indigenous studies diploma, recognizing their completion of Nuu-chah-nulth language courses and First Nations studies alongside their standard courses. This is the first year that the Alberni District Secondary School is offering the dual diploma program, with additional classes to come.
“[It’s] cool to be recognized for the work we put into learning about our culture,” said Sophia Bill of Tseshaht, who is an ADSS graduate with the dual diploma.
“The French immersion students get…recognized for being in French, so I thought it was kind of cool that they do it with our second language there as well,” added Saphia Lauder of Hupacasath, another graduate to complete the Indigenous studies diploma.
Lauder noted that in being the first to graduate from ADSS with the Indigenous studies dual diploma, they are taking the lead for future students.
Bill and Lauder said they hope that the Indigenous studies diploma encourages students to continue to take Indigenous studies courses and that the diploma recognizes culture in the school.
“I’m hoping that we see a few more students next year get the diploma,” said Lauder.
When asked what their favorite part of Indigenous studies was, Bill, Lauder, Hannah Sam of Tseshaht and Natalie Clappis of Huu-ay-aht chimed in to say they became friends through the courses, noting that it’s nice to be around people from their own culture.
Currently, ADSS offers Nuu-chah-nulth language courses for Grade 8, 9, 10, and 11, BC First Peoples 12, and English First Peoples 12, said Jeannette Badovinac, vice-principal at ADSS.
Next year they will also be offering English First Peoples 11 and a Carving 11/12 course with a focus on West Coast imagery. In the 2024/2025 school year ADSS will also offer English First Peoples 10, added Badovinac.
Additionally, they are in the process of getting board approval for an Indigenous Leadership 12 class.
According to the 2023/2024 course planning guide, students who are active in their First Nation community with language studies, dance practice or performing at ceremonies can receive credits towards their Indigenous studies diploma.
“We have so many nations and students from those nations at our school,” said Badovinac. “We want our Indigenous kids to see themselves when they walk into our building.”
“It’s a huge accomplishment for these guys to take - because it’s equivalent to five courses - to focus and get this diploma,” she added, describing the diploma as rigorous.
Jackie Chambers, a student success teacher and co-chair of the Indigenous Leadership Team at ADSS, said that when these students chose to study Nuu-chah-nulth language, BC First Peoples History 12, or English First Peoples 12, “there was no expectation of a diploma.”
“They chose those courses because they're interested in [them] and it was something that they really wanted to do,” she added.
Clappis was shocked when she found out that she would receive a diploma for her studies.
“I didn't know that was something they offered, but I also thought it was really cool that we would get that after taking the courses,” said Clappis.
Chambers noted that these courses have been offered at ADSS for several years without the formality of the diploma.
“Giving out a diploma lets our students know just how much we value their hard work and their achievement,” said Chambers.
Erika Ingram, a language teacher at ADSS, recently moved to Port Alberni. Prior to her move, she taught at a school in the Okanagan that offered an Indigenous studies diploma for their students.
“I saw how valuable it was for a public school to honor and recognize a focus area for student learning,” said Ingram.
Ingram pitched the idea for the Indigenous studies diploma to Chambers, and the two of them brought it to the Indigenous Leadership Team near the beginning of the 2022/2023 school year. They were met with excitement for formal recognition that values the students’ success, said Chambers.
“I think we've long understood that there's different ways of knowing and different ways of learning and different values in terms of knowledge, but that's not always reflected in our schools,” said Ingram reflecting on the B.C. education system.
“Yet,” she added.
“I think that the next step is really to transform the way schools look to honor that,” she added. “It's about recognizing not just the student but recognizing the whole community and recognizing that knowledge is valuable.”