It's Never Too Late

0038-Grad_NIC_2014-20140611_MG_2581Patricia Dawson-Hunt spent the last four years working on her degree, when the most unexpected thing happened. She and eight other classmates realized they also earned their high school diplomas.

“We were utterly amazed when Pat Corbett-Labatt told us we could apply for our Grade 12 graduation,” Patricia said. “I didn’t have a great experience in high school but as I watched friends and family members graduate, it stuck with me. I knew I hadn’t accomplished the same success and I thought I should have.”

The graduates ranged in age from 20 to 70 and are enrolled in the Indigenous Language Revitalization program, a Bachelor of Education degree specialization offered in collaboration with the University of Victoria that allows students to teach traditional languages in schools. The degree combines culturally relevant English, math, and science at NIC’s Mount Waddington regional campus with elder-led language classes, and university courses from visiting UVic instructors who guide their studies.

It’s a lot of class time for someone who grew up feeling alienated from school. Patricia was in Grade 8 when she was sent from Kingcome Inlet to complete high school in Surrey, where she lived with a non-Aboriginal family and went to school with predominately white students. “I felt like a complete outsider,” she said. “All I wanted to do was go back home. I didn’t bother trying to get A’s and B’s because I didn’t believe I could do it.”

In Grade 11 she became pregnant and left school. When her boyfriend died, she returned home to the Island with her six-week-old daughter.

Twenty three years later, Patricia works as a Social Development Coordinator with the Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw Nations. She’ll complete her final practicum at the Wagalus School in Fort Rupert this fall.

“This is my chance to give back to children in my community, to give them what I didn’t have,” she said. She praises NIC instructors for helping her purge old expectations of herself and the education system.

“I realize I can do it after all. The teachers here treat you like equals. If you don’t understand something, you can reach out to them. It makes a huge difference.”

As future educators, they’re reinforcing the value of education to students in the district, where 35 per cent of students don’t finish high schooll.

“For many of them graduating was a lifelong goal,” said Corbett-Labatt, who retired this year. “Now they can close that door. They’re the educators now. They’re setting a precedent where they are the role models and encouraging others.”

She urges anyone interested in getting their high school diploma to drop by NIC’s campus. “There are all sorts of people out there who don’t have their Grade 12 and don’t know they need it until they apply for a job. It’s not hard to get—you can combine all kinds of different courses to meet the requirements.”