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First Nations students face greater bullying incidence

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

Alexandra Perich. (CARMINE MARINELLI, 24 HOURS)

Alexandra Perich. (CARMINE MARINELLI, 24 HOURS)

Alexandra Perich remembers being singled out, bullied and dropping out of her Vancouver school, unable to bear how fellow Grade 9 students targeted her for being aboriginal.

Ironically, they didn’t know of her First Nations heritage until she told them.

Now a mother of four, she wasn’t surprised when shown a Vancouver School Board report Monday suggesting native students, especially those in high school, are up to three times more likely to be bullied than others.

“It was hard. I was singled out … I ended up dropping out that year,” Perich told 24 hours.

The figures came from Vancouver’s annual report on the Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement — a partnership between 50 B.C. school districts and First Nations communities to better education for the demographic.

The problem isn’t unique to B.C., according to Marilyn Jensen, a First Nations woman from Yukon. She recalled how a new class teacher treated her when she was 10.

“She spent the whole class talking to us about why we needed to be clean,” she said. “Just really, really horrible.”

VSB chairwoman Patti Bacchus expressed her concern for the numbers, noting some progress has been made in recent years, particularly in establishing a First Nations school at MacDonald Elementary.

The report, based on last year’s figures, also listed 96% of Vancouver’s native students were participating in aboriginal school programs.

“We are not at the point we need to be in terms of aboriginal students feeling a sense of belonging, feeling a sense of being safe at school,” Bacchus said.

Britannia Secondary, where one-in-four students are aboriginal, has taken a drastically new approach to aboriginal education.

Principal Geoff Taylor said aboriginal-only homework clubs, entrepreneurship projects and an outreach program have helped to create “meaningful attachments” to the Commercial Drive-area school and build community among the population at large.

“The sheer numbers may make a big difference,” he said. “When you’re looking at 25% of the population as aboriginal, there’s a feeling of inclusion … that’s something that works to our advantage here.”

Coquitlam is the only district reporting its latest numbers, saying 13% of aboriginal Grade 12 students feel bullied or teased.

The VSB’s latest figure for the same grade is 14% — an improvement from 29% in the year previous.

– With files from Chris Campbell, 24 hours



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