With only 36 per cent of Northern Lights School Division (NLSD) students graduating on-time in 2017, success coach Shane Bird wants to be part of the push for change.
He was hired by the division to focus on Grade 12 students at Churchill Community High School and Senator Myles Venne School (SMVS) as part of a pilot project. Through a partnership with the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, Bird has been tasked with boosting the graduation rate at both schools as a trial-run initiative. Bird believes he’s the right person for the job.
“I know where these kids are coming from and when I seen this job posting, that’s what I wanted to do in life,” he said. “I want to help kids, I want to help my community and I want to bring unity to the tri-communities.”
Bird, who was hired for the job last November, noted most of the students he’s been assisting are First Nations and Métis. According to the NLSD's most recent annual report, only 31 per cent of First Nations and Métis students graduated within three years in 2017 compared to 83 per cent of the non-Indigenous students. Across the province, 76 per cent of all students graduated on time, with 43 per cent of First Nations and Métis students doing so as well.
With NLSD likely having the worst graduation rates among provincial school divisions, Bird attributes the issue to a lack of mental health care across the North. He said many of the students he helps suffer from mental issues due to problems at home or they lack a sense of identity. In order to find out which students need help, Bird tracks the graduation list and attendance of each student.
“Their health and welfare comes first before school,” he said. “I make sure that is covered before they can succeed at school. Once they start getting on track, we can have a celebration of success for them and do something nice. My job varies from student to student.”
Bird also stated students from both Churchill and Senator share the same issues, which means it’s important for the band and school division to work together to solve them. He said it’s not unusual for students to transition between the schools at some point because of families moving on and off-reserve. Ultimately, Bird’s goal is to help as many students as he can as a success coach.
Prior to being hired by Northern Lights, Bird worked in the mining industry for six years before moving back to La Ronge. In the last couple of years, he completed a GED and coaches the wrestling club at SMVS. Bird stated he’s a recovering alcoholic and spent time in jail, but he’s been working on making a new life for himself.
“My life wasn’t on track for many years, but I lost my identity,” he said. “I was one of these kids who was labelled and I went from school to school. I’m starting to get my identity, culture and language back. I want to be a voice for the youth and make sure they’re being heard.”
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