‘They’re always there’: Students reflect on supports that uplifted them as they complete high school | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

‘They’re always there’: Students reflect on supports that uplifted them as they complete high school

Port Alberni, BC

With the days being warmer and longer, summer break is just around the corner, but for students in Grade 12, June also marks a larger milestone: the completion of their high-school journey.

Katie Ambrose, a member of Ehattesaht with ties to Mowachaht, Hesquiaht, Kyuquot and Ahousaht, reflected with Ha-Shilth-Sa on her journey through school. Despite the challenges she’s faced during her time at Alberni District Secondary School (ADSS), including being a student there during the pandemic, she’s proud of making it to where she is now.

 “It's been a roller coaster getting through school,” said Ambrose. “I’ve dealt with my own things and school got really hard.”

“There [were] a couple of hard years throughout high school and by Grade 11, I was just wanting to get out,” she said.

But when Ambrose was struggling, she reached out to the circle of support that surrounded her at ADSS  - some whom were people she least expected to help who came forward for her through her journey.

For Ambrose her team of support consisted of a long list, including Nuu-chah-nulth education workers, teachers, counsellors, workers from the career centre, other staff members at ADSS, clinical counselling through Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council and the team at Youth Short Term Assessment and Response (Y-STAR).

“Teachers and counsellors are always there, and they just want you to succeed as well,” said Ambrose, noting that they are “always really good” in providing support. 

But through the struggles that Ambrose experienced, family gatherings are what kept her strong, she said.

“I do believe family is medicine and they helped keep me strong,” she shared.

“I feel like in some way, at some point, I didn't really care about school,” said Ambrose. “But a lot of the reasons why I've kept pushing is because I want to make my mom proud and be a role model for my nieces and my nephew.”

For the young graduate, since Grade 9 she has always enjoyed psychology. 

“It just really intrigues me,” said Ambrose. “It's really interesting.”

Ambrose’s choice of career has always changed, though her desire to help others has been consistent through her journey. Her mother, Ruby Ambrose, even described her as a “natural helper.” Katie now aspires to be a registered nurse.

Ei-Ra Charleson of Hesquiaht, who graduated from Eighth Avenue Learning Centre, shared with Ha-Shilth-Sa that he completed roughly 20 classes this year to finish his schooling.

“That was my top priority this year was to finish school because I was like a year and a half behind,” said Charleson, who requested his graduation plan in February.

He shared that while he was placed on a graduation plan, he also was a part of the Chaputs program, a partnership between Eighth Avenue Learning Centre, Usma, and the RCMP, where students learn to carve their own canoe paddles and go on canoe trips with elders.

“It was a really fun program,” he said. “I like being able to get out and go and paddle instead of doing my schoolwork.”

Though Charleson prefers getting out to paddle, his favorite subject is science because of the labs he got to do.

Every Friday at 6 p.m., Charleson met with a group for culture practice. He shared with Ha-Shilth-Sa that he is learning songs for his late-brother’s memorial.

“I’m my mom’s only son that lives with her,” said Charleson. “It was up to me to go and learn those songs and ask for help from other singers.” 

“My culture played a role in helping me graduate with giving me something to look forward to in the week,” Charleson said. “Cultural practice has its way of healing you.”

Lisa Tremblay, a staff member at School District 70, shared with Ha-Shilth-Sa that Charleson is an “excellent role model, excelled in Nuu-chah-nulth language… and worked extremely hard this year.”

Next, Charleson would like to work for a couple years and then go to post secondary.

Katie’s mom, Ruby Ambrose, reflected on being a parent to five children.

“The parent role is so important,” said Ruby. “Family member as well.”

“Watching them all graduate and go through life, just seeing all the struggles that they did go through with loss and grief, and how real mental health is,” said Ruby. “Raising my family I learned along the way, more and more, with each child, how important that support is.” 

“It takes a community to raise a child,” she added.

Ruby shared that Katie was surrounded by grandparents, uncles, and siblings who all “pitched in to help her succeed.”

Ruby reflected on how teachers and other workers in the school helped create plans for Katie that took into consideration what she was ready for and her needs. The teachers and workers were always advocating for her, she said.

When Ruby encouraged Katie to do an assignment or something that she didn’t want to do, the mother always ended up helping her daughter.

“She was just trying her best to make sure I succeeded,” said Katie.

“It's so important to say, ‘I have these things happening in my life, but that's okay’,” said Ruby.

“Sometimes it doesn't seem like you will have certain support staff that you need, but they're always there,” said Katie. “It's hard at first to ask for help, but once you do reach out and ask for help, there's a lot more people that are there to support you than you think.”

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