Creating Belonging: A Gap Reduction Project

The Cause

Since 2010, the Rotary Tom Jackson Stay in School Program has sought to alleviate the high drop-out rates experienced in the Indigenous population of Calgary.

Based on the successful Rotary Stay in School Program, our founders decided that they could make a difference by addressing those areas where additional supports were needed for Indigenous students. We us an evidence-based approach to student-centered mentoring.

Our program has had excellent success, but we have identified some impediments we would like to try addressing by a new approach to our student’s engagement.

To this point, our student experiences in the program have largely been as single students, with no larger group acknowledgement or meeting other peers in the program during mentor-student interactions. We are concerned that this may align with reports of Indigenous populations indicate a lower sense of belonging, feelings of devaluation, and an inaccessibility to the better jobs and industries through the continuing fallout of historical events.

Mentors would like some help in appropriate discussion of traditional life-ways.

Our students would be the first post-secondary students in their families. Part of the challenge in getting new first-attenders to post-secondary is overcoming perceived gaps and barriers between students and the larger post-secondary world.

We plan to address this by hosting group events which are targeted at inclusion and belonging.

Who Will it Benefit?

We strongly believe building a sense of community and developing self-value leads to higher-level cognitive strengths and fosters resiliency. We would like to specifically target areas where we could continue to enhance students’ worth and feeling of belonging in their communities. We also want to address how students perceive the gap between themselves and the post-secondary world.

To accomplish this, we are developing a pilot project to involving families, mentors, and elders in meaningful and engaging group activities. We envision a project with a two-pronged approach:
- We would begin presenting targeted events where groups of students are led through a post-secondary tour, coupled with a short talk about how that institution seeks to include and embrace Indigenous students and ideas.
- Adding to this, we would also have a series of talks given by elders and scholars on topics such as Indigenous science, landscape songs, Indigenous law, archaeology, and long-distance trade in the Americas. We would hope to have some of these at significant locations such as Head-Smashed-In, Blackfoot Crossing, Fort Calgary, and other historically important areas within a reasonable distance from Calgary.
- At the end of each event presentation, a meal would be eaten by all attendees. This would further cement a shared-bowl kinship, and reduce gaps felt by our students.

It is hoped that the two complimentary strategies would give students a greater sense of worth in their own subsumed heritage, and to show the drive of the post-secondary world to engage and work with Indigenous students.