The Auntie who helps Indigenous college students regulate to school life

In Indigenous households, the aunt typically serves as an additional mother or father who offers recommendation and emotional assist to youthful relations.

Final yr, in session with native Indigenous organizations, Confederation School piloted its model of the Auntie to encourage incoming college students, typically with little or no household historical past of school, to make it previous the first semester.


Lillian Comeau fit the invoice in a number of methods.

She had retired from the school in 2005, however regularly returned for part-time roles that stored her up-to-date on insurance policies and companies affecting college students. As a heat character, the ‘Auntie’ position got here simply to Comeau, who had a Mi’kmaq great-grandmother and grew up because the second-eldest in a household of 14 kids, serving to to lift her siblings. She can be an actual auntie to quite a few nieces and nephews in her household.

READ: How to help students in distress


“It was nearly having a pleasant strategy; that did the trick,” she says, of working with about 80 first-year Indigenous college students in 2018-19. “It appeared like they may belief me.”

For historic (together with the residential college legacy), financial and social causes, Indigenous college students sometimes are at higher threat than non-Indigenous college students of dropping out of school.

College students will “depart college due to a household state of affairs, if somebody has taken in poor health,” says Brenda Small, vice-president of Confederation’s Centre for Coverage and Analysis in Indigenous Studying. “The opposite issue we now have seen is that they’ll depart for financial challenges.”


Between 2014 and 2016, Confederation estimated that 22 per cent of self-identified Indigenous college students left after the first time period, a charge nearly twice that of non-Indigenous college students.

So final yr, within the one-year pilot, the school employed Comeau, a former long-time employees member educated in scholar counselling, to function a “pro-active adviser.” In that position, Comeau prolonged a welcoming hand to Indigenous college students after they arrived on campus, checking on them at common intervals as an alternative of leaving them to contact the school in the event that they hit a roadblock.

Emily Willson, a analysis challenge supervisor with the centre, says that, for the outreach position, “we would have liked the proper particular person” and Comeau was it. She constructed a pleasant rapport with college students, referring them to on-campus Indigenous sources, together with tutors and Elders, and helping with non-academic issues associated to housing, little one care and private finances.


SCHOOL PROFILE: Confederation College

Initially, just a few college students confirmed as much as open homes held in the course of the month. Over time, typically with meals as an inducement to attend occasions, college students began to answer Comeau’s inquiring “How are you doing?” emails. “Because it progressed, I might get so excited,” says Comeau. “Even after they mentioned, ‘Thanks, I’m doing fine,’ it was good, as a result of I knew they acquired the message.”

Some issues have been seemingly minor. When college students couldn’t afford to purchase calculators for accounting class, Comeau directed them to the library to signal out the free gear. 


“Stuff like which means a lot,” she says.

Others have been extra severe. When a scholar confided in Comeau about his psychological well being points, she instantly sought the assistance of on-campus Indigenous counsellors who rapidly arrange a medical appointment. “The semester had simply began and I may really feel this particular person actually wanted assist,” she says. “That was the second once I felt I had helped this particular person proceed [at school].”

The pilot challenge was the topic of a analysis examine by Confederation’s Centre for Coverage and Analysis in Indigenous Studying and the College of Ottawa’s Schooling Coverage Analysis Initiative (EPRI).


Of their examine of naadamaage (“one who helps folks”) at Confederation, the Centre and EPRI in contrast a management group of self-identified Indigenous college students to a different group, additionally Indigenous, given “intrusive” assist by Comeau. The extent of “persistence”—those that moved on to second semester—was about eight share factors increased for these receiving proactive help in comparison with those that navigated faculty companies on their very own.

“We all know—statistically—this had a constructive affect,” says Willson.

Furthermore, she says, the pilot challenge led to a heightened appreciation of what “learners must persist and succeed.” Even when faculty companies exist, she says, “College students should not going to entry them if they aren’t conscious of them, and the proactive advising addressed that main hole.”


Based mostly on the examine’s findings, Confederation is growing a plan to develop the position of present Indigenous scholar advisers this fall so as to add the outreach position carried out by Comeau over the previous yr. 

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