When high school isn’t enough: 4 NWT students are on the way to post-secondary

Kasandra Migwi is in her second year of study at the University of Alberta, and has about two and a half years left. When he finishes he will have two degrees under his belt, one in Indigenous Studies and the other in education.

But getting there is not a smooth ride.

It took more than a decade to make the transition from secondary school to post-secondary education. After graduating at the age of 16 in 2007 at Behchokǫ̀, NWT, he underwent a series of instructive programs over the next several years.

“I wish I had a little more support… in the school system. I mean I value my education. But then I felt a lack of support with writing and later with my math and science,” Migwi said.

“I think that’s why I went up so often after high school.”

Migwi is far from alone.

There is no exact data on how many NWT students end up improving their high school grades before entering high school, but anecdotally, this is a common occurrence.

Migwi was one of dozens of people speaking out online in a Facebook thread started by CBC Trail Edge host Lawrence Nayally, who asked about the high school experience of NWT-ers in the area, and whether they should upgrade their grades afterward before moving on to post-secondary studies.

The question sparked 50 comments, with dozens of people sharing similar experiences. CBC interviewed some of them to hear more about their journey.

Portrait of a smiling woman.
Fredelle Deneyoua said she had to spend two years unexpectedly improving after she finished high school. (Posted by Fredelle Deneyoua )

Fredelle Deneyoua started her education at Hay River and finished it at Yellowknife.

He initially dropped out of school in 9th grade at about 15 years old.

He decided to return around the age of 20. He sat down with the principal and a few teachers and came up with a fast-track program to earn his high school diploma for a year and a half. This time, Deneyoua said he was committed to the school and he “achieved” the program, graduating with honors.

But when she started applying for post-secondary education, she found that despite her good grades, the courses she took in high school weren’t enough to get accepted.

“I’m so angry,” he said.

Deneyoua said when he returned to high school he was not told that there were different levels of the course and that could affect his future.

He had to spend the next two years grading those courses before entering post-secondary.

Now, she graduated from Fort Smith’s Aurora College Thebacha Campus with a business diploma, but she says she wishes things were different.

“I wish they would sit me down and tell me, ‘Hey, if you’re going this route, or this route, or whatever it is that you want to do, this is what you need to do,'” she says. “And I wish they would guide me that way.”

Various paths in the NWT

The NWT education system has a variety of course paths. For example, mathematics has three streams for Grades 10 through 12. As students progress to Grade 10, they can take 10 C (combined courses) or 10-3, lower level.

After finishing level 10-C, they can take 20-1 then 30-1 (upper level flow) or 20-2 then 30-2. For 10-3, they can take 20-3 after that 30-3, the lowest level option.

According to the education department, to pass high school in NWT you need a minimum of 100 course credits and 30-1 English or 30-2 English. However, students do not need to be at -1 or -2 to pass all subjects.

Graph showing the three levels of education and their order.
The NWT education system has three streams of mathematics for Grades 10 to 12. (Northwest Territory Government)

The department’s website also notes that students should be aware that “the courses you take in high school will determine your choices after you graduate, as different colleges and universities have different entry requirements for specific programs.”

The first two streams are usually required for entry into post-secondary education in Canada, depending on the school and program. In some cases, only the first stream is acceptable.

However, in the NWT, gaining access to the top course stream is not easy, and in some cases, students are not even aware that it is an option.

In 2020-2021, only 120 students in the NWT were enrolled in Math 30-1, and of those students, the vast majority passed (96 percent), according to the region’s latest JK-12 Education System Performance Measurement Technical Report. This shows that there are only 80 children enrolled in Mathematics 20-2 and 95.2 percent pass. The report doesn’t show the number of students enrolled in stream -3.

According to Briony Grabke, spokesperson for the department of education, NWT schools offering -1 courses fluctuate from year to year and from semester to semester based on several factors, such as students’ interests, needs, previous academic achievements, and their post-secondary plans, along with “school operational realities”, such as the number of teachers available.

When a school is unable to offer in-person upper-level courses in a particular semester or year, the spokesperson said, regional education authorities can work with the department to arrange course delivery via Distance Learning North.

Convince the school to offer a higher level

That’s what happened to Lianne Mantla-Look, who is now a nurse at Yellowknife.

With the help of family and family friends, she said she advocated for herself while in high school in Behchokǫ to take courses she knew she needed to continue into post-secondary education, so she wouldn’t have to go up grades. later.

Lianne Mantla-Look is now a nurse. (Posted by Lianne Mantla-Look)

But it’s not easy either. He said he had to convince the school to let him enroll in a distance learning program so he could take courses like Science 20-1 instead of taking the low-level courses, like most of his peers at the time. He says his school also varies in terms of providing -1 courses, and in order not to fall behind on getting both his knowledge at -1 level, he takes them at the same time.

“In 11th grade, I took science 20 and science 30 in the same semester,” he says, “just so I wouldn’t have to deal with the school’s fallout, catering to mainstream students.”

Mantla-Look believes that if she and her family do not fight for access, taking lower-level courses will “strain” her success.

“And, frankly, my car,” he said. “It will only lead to bad results for me.”

Christina Bonnetrouge, who attended school in Fort Providence, NWT, said she was lucky. While he was at school, his teachers went out of their way to offer a variety of experiences and additional courses beyond the basics.

He said preparations started early. When she was in 9th grade, she said her teachers asked students what they wanted to do after high school—and they helped prepare them for what they might need to do to get there. He said normally, Fort Providence doesn’t offer -1 and -2 courses, but his teachers took up the “challenge”, so he and others could have access to the higher levels of the course.

Bonnetrouge teachers also take students on field trips to Edmonton, where they visit the university and see various aspects of post-secondary life, what the registrar is like and where, boarding, how food is prepared, and more.

“I was lucky enough to have teachers who were at my school at the time to offer the course,” he said.

“If not, then I should probably upgrade.”