After a rocky start, the Prince Albert branch of the Sylvan Learning Centre is calling its first-ever partnership with a First Nations reserve a success.
The centre partnered with Birch Narrows Dene Nation to create an after school program that helped students develop their reading and writing skills. Centre director Dave Fannon says he’s satisfied with how things turned out.
“We feel the results were very good. On average we saw a one grade level improvement, with some students improving two grade levels.”
Ten students took part in the program, which ran for nine weeks in October and December. However, the start up did not go smoothly.
Shortly before the start date two of the five teachers who were supposed to help with the program were involved in a non-fatal car accident. As a result, Fannon had to drive from Prince Albert to Birch Narrows to help out. He says the five-hour trip didn’t bother him.
“I enjoyed it,” he says, laughing. “I got to know the kids very well. They were like sponges. We had some that really latched on to the program.”
The effects of the program did not go unnoticed in the community. In addition to better grades, many also noticed a change in attitude.
“I’ve been talking to parents,” says Birch Narrows Chief Robert Sylvester, who originally contacted Sylvan about setting up a program. “They’re saying there’s been a big improvement in their kids’ interest in school.”
Parents say they noticed the same thing.
“They don’t feel down about themselves,” says Stephanie Montgrand, whose daughter and nephew are in the program. “It shows them that they can actually do it.”
Fannon says he hopes they can develop the program for further use on other First Nations. They are also planning a second phase to their program that will utilize Sylvan’s online resources, which allows tutoring over the Internet. It is scheduled to start this February.
“If we can get the same results it will be a win-win because we can use that anywhere,” Fannon says.
The typical program involves 36 hours of work, or four per week. Students take an assessment test to see what grade level they are at. The instructors then mold the course to fit each student’s level.
Parents have to sign their children up for the program and pay $100 a week for its use. Fannon says everyone he talked to was satisfied, and parents like Montgrand say it was worth it to help their kids.
“I really like that it made my kids more confident in doing things on their own,” she says. “My daughter had no confidence in reading and writing and now she does it on her own.”