Two social workers are leading the push for an independent school for at-risk First Nations students to be built in the Hazeltons area, where they say students are slipping through gaps in the public school system.
Inspired by the iCount High School in Moricetown, Bulkley Valley Child Development Centre workers Jim Woodward and Arlene Morrison are meeting with band councils and local governments to try to rally support for a similar school in the Hazeltons.
The Moricetown iCount High School follows the public school curriculum but students receive personalized education which is more forgiving of their individual circumstances and learning disadvantages.
Launched in 2012, it was created for students who were failing in the public school system, or not attending school at all.
In late November, Woodward and Morrison toured the Moricetown school with co-founders Lorna and Tom Butz and were impressed by the demeanour of the students they met.
The social workers, who both work in the Hazeltons, believe communities in the Upper Skeena need an iCount school to provide for students who are unable to thrive at a normal school.
They say the public school system is not working for at-risk First Nations students.
“I feel there’s a need because the kids are not going to school, they are not going to the regular public schools and I really feel there is a huge disconnect between the youth and the schools,” Morrison said.
She said she had seen first-hand the benefits of the iCount model.
Her son’s girlfriend, who has been living with her in Kispiox Village since she was 14, has been attending the Moricetown school for two years.
Morrison said the teenager had struggled at school before she started going to iCount.
“She was just falling too far behind and she was not wanting to go anymore so she was just at home, so I suggested that she enrol in Moricetown,” she said.
“[At iCount] she just started thriving … personally and academically.
“She’s more into it, she’s sharing what she’s learned or whatever she hears from the teachers there, whatever she’s taught.”
Last week, Woodward presented the iCount concept to the Gitsegukla Education Society.
President Sadie Howard said the society supported Woodward’s push for an iCount school and it would assist as needed.
“Based on what we’ve been told of the iCount school, it is something that would be quite beneficial to the area’s youth, including those from Gitsegukla,” Howard said.
“We’re aware of the practices and successes occurring in Moricetown and would look forward to Gitsegukla youth being able to achieve such success.”
Since late November, the iCount school in Moricetown has received significant exposure from a movie it made about its successes to date.
Originally presented at a Smithers District Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Nov. 20, it went viral after it was posted online on Nov. 24. It has now been watched more than 23,000 times.
iCount prides itself on its “family” environment.
Students at the school are provided with breakfast and lunch and meet for a daily “huddle”, where they can talk as a group about any problems they are experiencing.
iCount co-founder Tom Butz said the biggest difference between his school and public schools was how personalized the teaching was.
“We really work with the kids at their level,” he said.
“There’s time to help them, there’s a real family atmosphere, I think that’s the biggest difference.”
Orvall Jr. Michell, 17, has been at the iCount school for two years.
He said he felt more comfortable at the school because he knows the teachers there and feels that he can confide in them.
“The teachers they make it so you actually understand, they actually explain it perfectly so you can actually understand it,” he said.
“It makes me feel more comfortable with people that I know and that’s the kind of environment that is best because then I don’t feel like I’m being discriminated [against] or I’m not worth anything.”
Another student, 15-year-old Cain Michell, said he had stopped attending school altogether when he was enrolled in iCount.
He said his grades had improved from Fs to As since he transitioned.
Coast Mountains School District superintendent Katherine McIntosh said the public system had a range of programs designed for students with learning disadvantages.
Rehabilitation workers, educational assistants, breakfast and lunch programs, homework clubs, after school sports and fine arts programs were among the initiatives she said were in place.
McIntosh said part-time attendance and learning programs, such as Back to the Land in Hazelton, were also available.
“Students don’t attend school for a variety of reasons, including personal, home and school factors,” she said.
“Certainly one of them is how relevant they feel the program is and the level of success they experience.”
Regarding the proposed iCount school, she said it was beneficial for students and families to have choice in educational programs.
“Students benefit when we listen carefully to what they are saying and respond in a manner that engages them in school and provides them with a relevant quality education.”