Bugler confident that Following Their Voices can be a real turning point
While he acknowledges there were some growing pains when the Following Their Voices initiative was first introduced to the province, Pat Bugler was on board from the start and even more so now.
A long-time educator himself, Bugler is now the First Nations and Métis advisor at the Ministry of Education.
“We’re starting to see some really encouraging gains around graduation rates and student attainment levels. I give a lot of credit to the schools out there who are on board, and there has been a lot of support for the program,” Bugler said.
“There seems to be a wide consensus that this is working, not only for teachers but also for students as well, and that has been our focus since day one.”
Bugler noted that students with an enhanced sense of belonging have helped teachers get to know their students better and their respective realities.
An Indigenous person himself, Bugler stressed that one has to look at the overall picture with Following Their Voices, adding that the oft-repeated mantra of improving on-time graduation rates is not the true benchmark by which to judge this initiative.
He said that while it might take some students more than three years to gain their high school diploma, this has to be taken against the backdrop of life circumstances. This might mean that it takes a slightly longer path to gain those one or two missing credits in some cases.
“On time can’t be the ‘be all and end all in this’; it has taken us seven generations to come to this point, and you can’t expect everything to happen overnight. We understand the overall picture and we are seeing significant progress. Our hope is that this initiative will impact K-9 students as well in the future.”
Bugler, like many others involved in Following Their Voices, cited the importance of earnestly starting to listen to student voice.
“That engagement is what we need, and to create an environment where teachers understand who I am [referring to First Nations and Métis students]. The students have to know the teacher has their back and that there are allies in the school. We’ve seen signs of that happening for sure.
“We also need to work on the student-to-student relationships, because that is below where it needs to be,” he said in alluding to such issues as bullying, for example.
As well, Bugler noted the importance of trying to address mental health issues among students, lamenting that “trauma today seems to be the new norm. As a sector we have to address this, and I mean all stakeholders. We can’t ignore this because it’s a very real issue.”