Victor Jim knows what is happening within the walls of Nusdeh Yoh elementary school and likes what he sees.
He sees a choice school creating positive change to address an alarming disparity in the graduation success rates between aboriginal students and the general school population.
But what's really exciting to School District 57's district principal of aboriginal education are the rewards he believes are coming to those students a few years down the road. He's convinced the Nusdeh Yoh choice school concept will better prepare aboriginal students for secondary school, which will result in more students earning their diplomas.
"When the kids leave our school and move on to PGSS, these kids will have a better chance at succeeding," Jim said. "The support people we have in there are making that possible. Kids come to school with a number of problems, stuff they don't have control over, and we have people like our aboriginal support workers who have a good understanding where the kids are coming from and how to handle these kids."
The rate of graduation for aboriginal students remains a concern for district school staff. In 2005-06, 36.2 per cent of aboriginal students and 66 per cent of all students graduated within six years of entering Grade 8. While those numbers have steadily climbed, with 52 per cent of aboriginal students as compared to 72.4 per cent of all students reaching that goal in 2009-10, Jim sees plenty of room for improvement.
"Twenty to 30 per cent is a big gap, and we need to close that gap," Jim said. "For the longest time we've been doing the same old, same old, with the same dismal results.
"We're doing our best to get our kids on an equal footing with the general population."
Jim, 61, was hired in August to replace Charlotte Henay in the aboriginal education office. Prior to that, Jim worked for six years with Ministry of Education after 18 years as a teacher and principal, mostly at Moricetown elementary school in Smithers.
One of his priorities is to bring Lheidli T'enneh language and cultural studies courses to mainstream schools within the district. He's assembling a language team to bring that project to fruition within the next three years.
"The choice school incorporates a lot more of the aboriginal language and culture and that's a little more difficult to do in the regular schools," Jim said. "That was the driving force behind the aboriginal school."
Part of the problem with implementing such a program district-wide is finding enough teachers who are fluent in the Lheidli T'enneh Carrier dialect. Like many aboriginal languages around the world that are gradually dying out, the goal of preserving them is difficult to achieve.
"There are very few Lheidli T'enneh speakers and they are worse off than we are in Moricetown," said Jim, part of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation. "In 1999, when I did my masters we were 15 per cent fluent speakers. and in 2012 we're down to six per cent, and I suspect it's quite a bit lower than that here. So it's very important we revitalize and maintain the Lheidli dialect."
He plans to meet with chiefs and tribal councils to seek out cultural and language learning opportunities for students in the district. Those students could be bused to aboriginal villages for firsthand experiences.
He also wants to encourage more community interactions between tradespeople and aboriginal students to find more role models willing to give presentations to schools and discuss how they became qualified for their jobs.
"We need to get the community behind what we're trying to do here in this district," Jim said.