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A day in the life of an Indigenous education worker: supporting and guiding Indigenous students

| Categories: Blog, Our People, Indigenous, Blog, Indigenous, Our people

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Pat Forrest views her role as an Indigenous education worker ‘to encourage and guide students towards achieving success not only academically but in all areas of their lives.’ Based at Beaconsfield Elementary and Gladstone Secondary, Forrest works to build relationships and identify needs of Indigenous students. Her responsibilities include the development and running of groups and programs that provide a better connection between students and their school. Through murals and other Indigenous art projects, Forrest works to develop cultural understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. She presents to classes on west coast art, culture and social structure, circle teachings and teachings of the medicine wheel. With Indigenous working groups, she also develops resources for educators.

What does a typical morning look like? 

In the elementary school I do classroom presentations and activities or I do Indigenous student group work or I see students one-on-one. I encourage students to learn more about their culture through art projects or working on presentations to share with their class either as a group or individually. Some students follow their culture but others know they are Indigenous but have no idea what this means. If they know where they are from we will research more about their people. 

In the secondary school it is more social emotional support. For some students it is supporting them in ways to engage them more in school. It is creating that safe place (the Sacred Room) for them to come if needing support or just a place to be for awhile. 

What does lunch look like? 

In the elementary school during pre-COVID times, for grades 4-7 we had an Indigenous Awareness Group which was open to all students who were interested in learning and working on Indigenous projects for the school. It stopped, but we will be starting up the club again soon. We are starting slowly with a smaller number of students. 

At recess we had a weekly kindergarten to grade 3 group, and that remains cancelled. 

At the secondary school level we had lunch time drop-ins in our Sacred Room plus ‘Bannock Fridays’ where students would participate in making and devouring bannock. Right now, students at Gladstone are attending school for only 1.5 hours per day. We are having a drop-in once a week on Thursdays at 10:30am where students and myself make no-touch bannock following COVID rules. 

We hold our Indigenous Education Working Group meetings at lunchtime and these continue. I also meet with students as I don’t like to pull students from class. At the secondary level meeting with students is now staggered throughout the day due to short days in class. One group attends in the morning and the other attends in the afternoon. 

What does an afternoon look like?  

Every day is quite different and I do much the same as in the morning.   

At the secondary level I focus more on developing our Sacred Room and the various activities and programs we run. We have run mentorship programs through YWCA. Classrooms/programs come to the Sacred Room for cultural/art activities.  

What about after school?   

Organizing after working with students all day, following up with paper work, phone calls, responding to emails, the occasional meeting and preparing for the next day. 

What is your favourite part of your job? 

Creating Sacred Rooms. A Sacred Room is a safe and comfortable space for Indigenous students to receive support and feel connection through drop-ins, mentorship, youth support groups, and student workshops. It is a place to share teachings and culture to classes or anyone interested. 

Working at transforming the school into a place where our Indigenous students feel more connection, they feel that they belong, watching them grow in leadership skills and engage more in their education. Interacting and guiding our Indigenous students brings me great pleasure. 

Prior to her work at Beaconsfield Elementary and Gladstone Secondary, Forrest worked for many years as a First Nations youth and family worker at Templeton Secondary. She and Ernie LaRochelle, a now-retired First Nations educator, developed programs, field trips like the Navajo student exchange, and First Nations Family Night, a free cultural event with food and entertainment. They created their first Sacred Room at Templeton Secondary. Forrest continues to use this experience as a guide in her current work, focused on addressing the needs of Indigenous students in order to promote their successes. 

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