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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 5, March 2006

Connections program in Skeena

by Sue Spalding

The Connections Program has been running at Skeena Junior Secondary School for about two years, and it is demonstrating success in getting at-risk students to work and learn. The program is modeled on Hazelton Secondary School’s Connections Program but is developed specifically for Skeena. It took a team effort to plan and develop a program that could work within Skeena Junior Secondary School. Skeena also hired two Aboriginal support workers who work primarily within classrooms. Goals of the program are to change the attitudes of students toward their high school experience and support them in reaching their potential. The program adapts to meet the needs of each student and assists them to increase their chances of success.

The program is an individualized approach to correcting student behaviour and attitudes, and a means of focussing academic efforts. The Connections Program provides a classroom space for small groups of students to work with close supervision and one-on-one support. The goals are individually defined, and the room is staffed by a teacher and a connections co-ordinator.

Referrals come from teachers, administrators, counsellors, and students themselves. Classroom teachers may refer the students to the program for academic or behavioural support, for a class for a specified period of time, and for specific goals. The principal, vice-principal, and counsellors may also refer students to this program. Students may self-refer when they feel it is in their best interest to be there, but these referrals must be approved by both the classroom teacher and the office. The key to success for the program has been the support of classroom teachers within Skeena.

Data is kept on the number of students referred and the time spent in the program, as well as changes in their academic progress. The effectiveness of our efforts and the student’s success will guide us in future plans for the program. The team of supporters for the Connections Program, including the Aboriginal support workers, meet on a regular basis with the intent to continuously improve our program and services at Skeena.

The connections room also houses a number of programs outside of the allotted blocks of instructional time. These include:

Breakfast Club—funded by Community Links, 131 funding, and school funds. Students enjoy a nutritious breakfast that includes muffins, bagels, fruit, and juice. Students prepare for first block, load up for a morning of learning, find out what’s going on around the school and the community, and spend time with one another. If students miss breakfast, the connections room also provides a break-time snack.

Homework Club—daily from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. with the Aboriginal support workers. Students have a snack, do homework, join friends, work toward improving their grades, and receive support with the tasks required. One success of the homework club is the peer tutors, Grade 10 student volunteers who are trained and receive credits for assisting students with one-on-one support at homework club.

Lunch Bunch—Tuesdays at lunchtime. Students sign up for a free hot lunch. Guest speakers from the community talk about teen issues, and students make the important connection between their education and successfully achieving their goals. It also helps them to discover the resources available for youth within the community.

Culture Club—Thursdays at lunchtime. Teacher volunteer, Shane Pauls, and I provide students with cultural hands-on activities. They learn about the language and culture of various Aboriginal people, including their own. The goal is to enhance their cultural knowledge in a traditional, activity-based manner. Role models or Elders are invited in to do storytelling and other activities with the students.

Skeena Junior Secondary has become an enjoyable place to work. It feels like a place where Aboriginal students feel a sense of belonging. It is important that students feel there is a space and place for them within the school culture. The Connections Program strives for that sense of belonging. We continually work at connecting students with their learning potential, their possibilities within the community, and with their sense of identity.

Sue Spalding teaches at Skeena Junior Secondary School, Terrace.

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