A Study of Factors Contributing to the Success of Female Aboriginal Students in an Inner City High School

by Bazylak, Darryl

Abstract (Summary)
This study was based on the premise that Aboriginal students possess valuable knowledge and insights with regard to factors leading to their educational success. This study was qualitative research using a narrative approach in the form of sharing circles. It was a study of factors five female Aboriginal high school students, who anticipated graduating in June 2002, identified as contributing to their success in school. Traditionally, researchers have focused on factors contributing to the failure of Aboriginal students in high school. Their analysis have proven futile in decolonizing and reconstructing conventional education.

The purpose of this study was to give students a voice in their education and in this voice, identify factors which contributed to their success. The data gathered through the collective voice of the students will assist educators and parents in challenging the educational system to satisfy the needs of all students, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. The unexpected composition of five female participants allowed the study to touch on issues facing Aboriginal women in school. These factors included the strong support of family, the nurturing roles that that engenders in them and their desire to bear children in the future, and the wish to break the cycle of social assistance by obtaining an education.

The information collected in the sharing circles was analyzed from a traditional medicine wheel framework. The themes and sub-themes, which developed from the data, created the elements of a medicine wheel which will bring balance and harmony to the educational system. The participants identified a strong inner support system characterized by goals and the search for a gift. The strength of their inner being fueled their will to succeed.

Their volition was further strengthened by factors found within the four realms of the medicine wheel: spiritual, emotional, physical, mental. The students identified spirituality as a combination of Aboriginal and Catholic teachings. This was characteristic of a new social environment which taught a freedom to live within two ideals of spirituality. In the emotional realm the students identified family, friends and development of self-identity as factors contributing to their success. The physical realm outlined the role multiculturalism had in the school, support programs played in making success a reality, and drug and alcohol avoidance had in their ability to succeed. The participants described Aboriginal teacher support, an engaging curriculum, and a grade twelve diploma as factors leading to success in the mental realm. Overwhelmingly, the factor most effecting the educational success of the participants was the teacher. All of the students described the positive and negative effect teachers had on their education. The teacher who supported the students in the four realms of the medicine wheel encouraged success in the classroom. The teachers who did not support the students provided a roadblock to success which the students overcame with perseverance and determination.

The study suggests the need for future research in the area of Aboriginal and non Aboriginal success factors. Many factors identified within this study indicates a strong commonality between the needs of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students in school. An examination of this type would serve to deconstruct the degree of difference assigned between students of different ethnic backgrounds. The data provided calls for more research on the relationships of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal teachers within schools. Lastly, the data provided by the students strongly indicates administrators must work to prepare teachers to be more supportive to student needs.

This study provides some insights for educators, parents and administrators. Unfortunately the students, who are the most important part of the study, can only share their collective voice. The real work of transforming the educational system to meet the needs of Aboriginal students must come from educators, parents and administrators.

Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Stiffarm, Lenore; Battiste, Marie

School:University of Saskatchewan

School Location:Canada - Saskatchewan

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:aboriginal students educational success


Date of Publication:02/18/2007

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