A mother of four is cautioning against cuts to a program supporting some of Saskatoon’s most vulnerable students.
The aboriginal student retention worker program, consisting of 12 staff, is being eliminated by Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools as a cost-savings measure.
“It was a major impact to my family. And I’m proud to say that three of my girls have graduated and now our last daughter will graduate,” said Rachel Tanton.
While the move will save around $700,000 each year, Tanton worries about the cost over the long run.
“(The staff) would be there to give them support and guidance and talk to them about what the future would have to offer them and keep them on track,” she said.
“They were available to me as well. They would call me, I would call them. It wasn’t just during office hours. It was after hours as well.”
Shirley Isbister with the Central Urban Métis Federation said retention workers help break down barriers, with poverty being one of the biggest to overcome.
“Challenges in families with addictions and support for the kids, to make the kids feel good about coming to school. They try to support a good learning environment,” Isbister said.
The workers have been helping students at St. Michael, St. Mary’s and St. Frances schools.
“I mean it is a huge impact at St. Michael’s because it is the Métis-centred school. St. Mary’s is in the core area. I just don’t understand how this became a way to recoup some of the dollars,” Isbister said.
Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools said the cut is a result of belt tightening in the last provincial budget.
“As this budget unfolds, we had to take things from various different categories that allow us to find that $9.7 m in savings,” said Diane Boyko, chair of GSCS.
Boyko said they’re hoping that other supports already in place will help fill the void, notably aboriginal student achievement coordinators.
“We remain positive and looking forward to what can happen for all of those First Nation and Métis students with the supports that we do have,” Boyko said. “We’re just going to have to work harder and roll up our sleeves.”
Boyko pointed to recent data to illustrate what extra supports within the GSCS have done for the self-declared first nation and Métis graduation rate over of five years.
“In the 2015-16 years, the province has about a 60 percent success rate. Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, with all those extra supports, our success rate was 71 per cent,” Boyko said.
“Ultimately it’s about improving the credit retention so they can graduate at the end with the support that they need to be successful.”