Can you believe it’s already October? If you’re a parent or student, we hope you have successfully transitioned to a back-to-school routine. Today we’re bringing you our most recent Community Chats highlight featuring the VCC Foundation.
We got the chance to connect with Reba Noel (she/her), Dean of Indigenous Initiatives at Vancouver Community College, to ask how the VCC Foundation empowers Indigenous single mothers by equipping them with a decolonized curriculum and practical math and comprehension skills to launch their career.
Check out our full Q&A below
Can you give us a quick overview of what the VCC Foundation does?
The VCC Foundation stimulates financial support for the students and programs at Vancouver Community College. VCC is proud to be one of the biggest providers of developmental programming in British Columbia.
Developmental education refers to programs that teach essential reading, writing, and math skills needed for everyday life and success in further education and employment. Students who enrol in developmental education are disproportionately students of colour, Indigenous students, students from low-income backgrounds, and students with disabilities.
Over the last couple of decades, we’ve seen a decline in public funding for developmental programming. So the VCC Foundation is reaching out to donors to support these indispensable, life-changing programs for equity-deserving students.
2. We understand that there is a new program being developed in partnership with RayCam Cooperative Centre. Can you tell us a bit more about the program and what it involves?
Vancouver Community College is partnering with RayCam Cooperative Centre to offer the same adult reading, writing, and math courses we teach on campus, but in a community hub where families can access wrap-around supports like childminding and hot meals. RayCam is located in the Downtown Eastside, and it’s one of the most frequently used community centres in Vancouver. The classroom at RayCam provides a safer learning environment for people who’ve experienced trauma in educational institutions or who feel unsafe leaving their community. The program primarily serves Indigenous single mothers who want to build their literacy and essential skills to support their children’s education and learning.
To increase accessibility, the program is highly flexible. It’s self-paced and runs four afternoons per week. Learners can drop in on any two to four of those days. In addition to studying English and maths, learners strengthen their academic readiness by developing self-advocacy skills, support systems, time-management skills, study skills, and test-taking strategies. The curriculum is culturally relevant to urban Indigenous people from many nations and seeks to weave together Indigenous and mainstream learning, teaching, and knowing.
3. How did the idea for this program come about?
Since 2014, RayCam has been implementing a Graduation Strategy to improve graduation rates for inner-city children. Only 41% of young people from the Downtown Eastside graduate from high school, and for Indigenous students, that graduation rate drops to about 30%. Parents accessing RayCam identified that to support their children’s education, read to them, and help them with homework, the parents also needed access to basic education. This led to the partnership with Vancouver Community College to provide basic education classes in place at RayCam.
4. How will the program weave together Indigenous and Western ways of teaching, learning and knowing?
The way we think about “literacy and essential skills” is often framed around what’s needed to function in a capitalist and colonial society. However, with further financial support, the Basic Education department will redesign the curriculum to recognize that essential skills include traditional cultural skills like drumming, weaving, carving, storytelling, dancing, and harvesting medicine. We’ll also bring Indigenous storytellers, Elders and knowledge keepers into the classroom to share traditional knowledge and wisdom. These elements will strengthen Indigenous student success.
5. Who is this program for, and how accessible will it be?
Most adult learners are single mothers raising children on social assistance and seeking a way into the paid workforce. Most learners have a grade 8-9 education level, and most learners are of Indigenous ancestry. Learners have suffered educational trauma, stigma related to low academic achievement, racism in the education system, and unrecognized or unaccommodated learning differences and difficulties.
This program addresses significant barriers to accessing adult education by eliminating financial and administrative obstacles to registration, providing free warm meals and learning materials, reducing the stigma associated with unmet educational potential, and providing free childminding.
6. What makes having this program in the DTES unique?
The Downtown Eastside of Vancouver is located on the traditional territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh nations. Although it’s known for high poverty rates, homelessness, and drug use, the neighbourhood also has a remarkable history of social activism around housing, mental health and addictions issues. It’s a very resilient community, and it’s an honour to partner with RayCam to help serve its residents.
Q&A with Reba Noel Dean of Indigenous Initiatives at VCC
Ready to support educational initiatives ?
The VCC Foundation is one of the many fantastic charity partners in #BrokersOfGood advocating for access to education. For more information on these incredible charities, connect with us.