Best Practices in Public Education Across Canada: Abbotsford School District’s Aboriginal Hub

Abbotsford School District, located in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia, is home to The Aboriginal Hub, a truly unique initiative in British Columbia. The Aboriginal Hub, part of the Aboriginal Education Centre, offers a range of community programs for families and children in one central location. Programming is a joint effort between the Abbotsford School District, the Ministry for Children and Families, the Ministry of Education, the Fraser Valley Child Development Centre, local Health, the Fraser Valley Regional Library and the United Way. Extensive community resources are available to students within the district, who are benefiting from strong school-community partnerships.

We asked Perry Smith, District Principal of Abbotsford School District’s Aboriginal Programs, a few questions regarding the evolution of the Aboriginal Hub, its emphasis on community partnerships, and its impact on students and the community as a whole.

How did the Aboriginal Community Hub come to exist? Who initiated the creation of an Aboriginal Community Hub?

“Our department identified that services in Abbotsford for Aboriginal people were rather disjointed; there was a need for an Aboriginal Friendship centre type service in the City, but the only service like that was in Mission (a community across the Fraser river, a 15-20 minute drive), the mandate of which covered a large region in the Fraser Valley and included a number of communities. That’s not really reasonable for a group of people who are not likely to access services unless they are close by, at their finger tips. We went the route of trying to get a Friendship Centre status funding here, but found there was no more funds for those.  So, we identified a need to reach out and provide services from one building – a ‘one stop shop’ type of mentality.

So that was the impetus for establishing a hub-like scenario and having services for Aboriginal people, all here. We had the space and facility, so we opened this building up as a Hub. We now have access to all the (Aboriginal) kids in our community; we know where families live, and which of our students are at risk. And by partnering with the Early Learning group in the school district to establish a StrongStart centre, it opened the door to other partners to come in and provide services.”

The Aboriginal Community Hub is unique in its collaboration between community partners. How do these partners work together to create comprehensive services for the community?

“Essentially it works because the Abbotsford School District provides the building to the Aboriginal Department to use as a hub – the building is the central feature. To my knowledge we’re the only Aboriginal program in a BC school district that has its own building. The fact we have a building means we have a meeting room, we have a gym, we have other spaces that any of the services can use. It helps us collaborate with those district teams and services in the community; they are able to come and meet with us so we can determine what their needs are. We want them to provide service to the aboriginal community here and we help by advertising and communicating that through our schools. A couple of examples: we just had a family gathering and combined it with a flu shot clinic; Fraser Health used our gym one evening to hold an Aboriginal Health Fair for our families.

Our key partners, with the School District, are: Xyolhemeylh Child and Family Services, Fraser Health, the Mental Health team, and Early Learning/StrongStart. Other groups come in and use the space too. “

What is the role of Abbotsford School District within the Community Hub?

“The major role is the support the Board of Education gives the Aboriginal program with the building. They let us use this building with no strings attached. And that’s unique. When people come and ask how we are able to have this hub and building, they are surprised when we say it’s provided (by the school district). Certainly other school districts are asking ‘how are you doing this?’ and ‘How did you go about putting this in place?’ It’s quite amazing really.”

What kinds of resources and information are available to the school district?

“Our mandate is to provide educational service and support to Aboriginal students in the school district (there are just over 1,800 students identified as Aboriginal in Abbotsford schools), but we recognize the social aspect of our community is part and parcel of academic success so providing these services we believe is going to carry over to see success in school.”

What has been the influence and impact of the Aboriginal Community Hub on the community? Have you seen an impact beyond the community?

“The increased access to the building has been key; building the access has increased the services we are able to provide, and the numbers of families accessing services. It’s families taking advantage of the programs here.

I think we’re halfway to a full use of the centre. One of the things we haven’t been able to do yet is open extensively in the evenings, or on weekends. It’s the one thing holding us back. So that’s our next step.”

Visit the British Columbia School Trustees Association’s Education Leader for more information on the Aboriginal Hub.