Red River College charts a new course for advancing Indigenous achievement

Enhanced Programs and Supports on tap to recruit, retain new students

By Dean Pritchard

 

It’s easy to see why Rebecca Chartrand’s colleagues call her a whirlwind.

Just five months into the job, Red River College’s first Executive Director of Indigenous Strategy has already championed the creation of three new programs aimed at growing the school’s Indigenous student population, and developed an Indigenous strategic framework to guide RRC to a bold, inclusive new future.

“We are shaking things up here,” Chartrand says. “My colleagues are receptive and we are getting a lot of good out of working with other departments. They’re saying they can’t believe how exciting and ambitious our plans are.”

Before coming to RRC, Chartrand spent seven years with the Seven Oaks School Division, where she was the driving force behind the development of an Indigenous language program for Kindergarten to Grade 3 students.

But something was missing. While the teachers were all fluent Anishinaabemowin speakers, they didn’t always know how to read and write in the languages.

Chartrand saw an opportunity to change that at RRC. Starting this month, the College will deliver Anishinaabemowin language courses specifically designed to develop reading and writing skills.

“A lot of the students who are going to be taking the course are educators who are already working in these language programs,” Chartrand says.

Other new initiatives under development for 2018 include a social enterprise program that helps students address and solve challenges in their communities, and an Indigenous culinary skills program.

Chartrand’s says the latter “is an exciting one for us because we have such a large Indigenous population in Manitoba, yet we only have a few Indigenous branded restaurants. We’re hoping to grow this industry and our presence in it.”

Indigenous learners currently account for 12 to 15 per cent of RRC’s student population. Chartrand wants to grow that number at least 20 per cent, a figure that better reflects Indigenous representation in Manitoba.

“We want to grow our programs, but more importantly, we want to increase our graduation rates,” she says. “We want to see better opportunities for Indigenous students, and that means increasing and creating partnerships with industry… since the ultimate goal of success is employment.”

Chartrand says it’s important not only to attract Indigenous students to RRC, but to keep them there after they walk through the door. With that in mind, she’s developing an “aspiring student tool-kit” to help learners determine how best to prepare for college life, and for success in their chosen fields.

“Often, our students aren’t ready when they get here. We’re trying to help them define what ‘ready’ is.”

Chartrand sas the tool-kit will include assessments and checklists students can refer to, but stresses they’ll have to cover more than just academics.

“Some might look at the social aspects, such as determining existing support networks in their community,” she says. “Or if they’re thinking about making a move to the city, what will their support network look like after they move?”

Chartrand and her team are also developing a new training program for all RRC staff, a move prompted by recommendations issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

“A lot of it will be understanding the historical issues that have impacted relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, as well as understanding the challenges that our students come with, that require the additional supports we’re creating.”

Providing an Indigenous voie at the administration table is a responsibility Chartrand doesn’t take for granted.

“I feel very privileged and fortunate,” she says. “I feel a personal responsibility to do as much as I can, because this is about helping individuals who are then going on to support families and communities.

“I carry that urgent around with me, as well as that excitement, about creating the supports we need to ensure our Indigenous students succeed.”

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