February 15, 2013 - 7:58am

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, February 15, 2013

NANAIMO, BC – At a day-long event on VIU’s Nanaimo campus, VIU’s Elders, Community Partners and Community Cousins (Aboriginal Student Mentors), came together to support and encourage Aboriginal students who are enrolled in community Adult Basic Education (ABE) courses, hoping to one day pursue post-secondary education.

The ‘Celebration of Learning’ was an idea of Rick Rembold’s, an instructor in VIU’s ABE Program and at the Snuneymuxw House of Learning. He’d noticed many of his students had a hard time returning to class after the Christmas holiday. After speaking to instructors who were teaching ABE to Aboriginal students at Tillicum Lelum, Chemainus Native College, Penelakut Learning Centre and VIU Pathways, he discovered they were experiencing the same thing, and decided something needed to be done to address the situation.

“I wanted to find a way to encourage our students to stick with their studies. I felt getting the community partners together would be a great way to acknowledge the hard work the students had done and an opportunity to give them the support or boost they needed to keep going,” says Rembold. “I was also hoping the day would connect these students to VIU, and allow them to become comfortable in the university environment.”

With the help of VIU’s faculty and staff including Sylvia Scow, Aboriginal Projects Coordinator & Elder Support; Sharon Hobenshield, Director of Aboriginal Education; Janet Sinclair, Aboriginal Student Transition Advisor and the Community Cousins, the “Celebration of Learning” event was organized at Shq’apthut, VIU’s Aboriginal Gathering Place.

Approximately 45 students from the different community programs came, as well as instructors and facilitators. The day began with a welcome from Gary Manson who is the Elder for Community Cousins. This was followed by an opening prayer from VIU Elder Uncle Ray, and then testimonials from five of VIU’s Aboriginal Student Mentors: Gina Mowatt, Ivy Richardson, Ashley O’Krainec, Zakary Myers and Daniel Blackstone. For many, this was the highlight of the day.

The student mentors, all in bright blue T-Shirts with the tagline ‘Don’t Panic, Little Bannock’, shared stories on how they’d overcome personal struggles – whether it was drug abuse, being kicked out of their home or issues with their cultural identity – in order to pursue their post-secondary education. They also talked about how important they felt their education was in helping them find focus and meaning in their lives. It was clear the students in the room, many whom were facing their own personal struggles, were inspired by the mentors’ stories.

“I think having the mentors there was key,” says Rembold. “It showed the other students that they aren’t alone and that others care about their success. It also showed them others are trying to accomplish the same thing, and that success is possible.”

As the day continued, the group took part in a number of activities, including a scavenger hunt led by the mentors, with the goal of introducing the other students to VIU’s campus and getting them more comfortable in the university environment.

The group then settled in to listen to, and be inspired by, the words of VIU’s Elders, who spoke about language and culture and how important it was to continue with education.

Rembold believes the event had a powerful impact on the students who attended. “At the end of the day, I asked some of my students if they could see themselves wearing a blue T-Shirt one day (a mentor's t-shirt) and the popular answer was ‘Yes’. One of my students, who was previously on the fence about transitioning to VIU, told me he is definitely interested in applying now. I don't know if I need much more proof that this was an inspiring day.”

Tags: In the Community

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