Candace Spilsbury, chair of the Board of Education for the Cowichan Valley School District, Robyn Gray, superintendent for the Cowichan Valley School District, William Yoachim, executive director, Kw’umut Lelum, and two students from Quamichan School show off the tablets students in need are being given through a partnership. (Submitted)

Candace Spilsbury, chair of the Board of Education for the Cowichan Valley School District, Robyn Gray, superintendent for the Cowichan Valley School District, William Yoachim, executive director, Kw’umut Lelum, and two students from Quamichan School show off the tablets students in need are being given through a partnership. (Submitted)

Partnership provides computers for Indigenous students in need in Cowichan

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on Indigenous communities

A partnership will be providing Indigenous students in need in the Cowichan Valley School District with laptops, tablets and free Wi-Fi so that they can continue their education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kw’umut Lelum, in collaboration with Nanaimo Ladysmith Schools Foundation (NLSF) and the Mastercard Foundation has partnered with the district in the “Staying Connected to Education” initiative.

“The Board of Education for the Cowichan Valley School District is grateful to all the parties who came together to make this gift of technology possible,” said district board chair Candace Spilsbury. “Providing further access to exceptional online learning opportunities during this pandemic ensures that all of our students receive what they need to thrive.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on Indigenous communities, where one in four people are living in poverty. With many services, including education, being provided in a virtual environment, it is challenging to ensure some of the most vulnerable have access to technological resources and supports to continue education and connection.

“It is wonderful for all of our partners to come together for this iPad purchase,” said district Superintendent Robyn Gray. “Putting reliable technology in the hands of students who need it is crucial to their educational journey. Ensuring equitable access to all of our programs is a priority of the district, and we are grateful to our partners for their support in ensuring that happens.”

While graduation rates are rising, only about 44 per cent of First Nations people 18 to 24 living on reserve have completed high school. Tablets and laptops, as well as additional supports including free Wi-Fi access, will provide a lifeline to students and their families who are already struggling to cope with a transition to virtual learning.

“Kw’umut Lelum and its nine Coast Salish member nations realize that education is the pathway to betterment of our children’s lives, and during this pandemic we have to ensure all Indigenous learners do not fall behind for economic reasons,” said Sqwulutsutun/William Yoachim, CEO of Kw’umut Lelum. “We have a duty as Indigenous people to ensure all Indigenous youth in our territories are treated as ours. This teaching comes from the land and is practiced in our Longhouse where you feed all the guests before yourselves, ensuring the guests are nourished and feel welcomed. Kw’umut Lelum feels the same to all the guests in our territories. We will ensure all Indigenous learners will be fed with the same educational opportunities as our own. ”

The initiative, originally launched in June, allows Cowichan Valley School District to identify families in need and oversee the distribution of devices and connection to supports to ensure they get to students who need them most. The district plans to distribute 132 iPads, cases and keyboards to Indigenous students in Grades 8 and 9 at Quamichan School, Frances Kelsey Secondary, Chemainus Secondary School, Lake Cowichan and The Grove Distance Learning school.

While this program will help to address some of the inequities experienced by Indigenous students and their families, it is clear that more effort is required to support cultural, social, educational and recreational access for Indigenous children and families in B.C. Kw’umut Lelum is exploring philanthropic opportunities through establishment of a KL Foundation that will serve to increase the accessibility and equity of programs and services for Indigenous people.

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