Two youth surveys later, a group of teens in Yellowknife have gathered data on why some high school students struggle to graduate — and they have some ideas for what can be done to address that.
The surveys, conducted in January and March, were part of a national project called Communities Building Youth Futures. The local version of this project is being run out of Home Base Yellowknife and aims to help youth graduate and succeed after high school.
Ava Applejohn, one of the young people who worked on the surveys and who recently graduated from high school, said the first survey was a general one advertised mostly on social media. The second survey targeted youth who use the services of Home Base and the Foster Family Coalition.
“I think a common misconception is that kids who aren’t going to school just don’t find it important,” she said. “Mental health and poverty, for the second survey, is a huge barrier … It’s more important than going to school, even though they realize their education is important.”
Graduation rates are generally higher in Yellowknife than the N.W.T. average — 74 per cent versus 60 per cent last year — but that still leaves behind more than a quarter of students in the city.
Applejohn and other youth involved with this project say instead of forcing students into classrooms, the territory should examine ways to bring the classroom to students who find it difficult to be in a school setting. If they struggle to adjust to an institutional setting, then a different setting might help.
“Even if it’s possible for some kids with social anxiety, who don’t want to be around all these people but still want some sort of education, to maybe have people who are willing to go to them so they don’t have to go to school and be in that environment,” said Yazmin MacIntosh, who also just graduated from high school.
“I think high school is just a place that favours people who are good at memorizing school work and stuff, or they’re organized [and] have their homework done on time. It’s like, if you don’t do that, then you get zeros.”
Narlie Dapilos, the project coordinator in Yellowknife, said it’s difficult to build a one-size-fits-all learning space, since people learn in different ways.
He said the survey highlights social anxiety, mental health, homelessness and housing instability as some of the factors that can play into whether a young person attends school.
“I think this is something that people might know, but it hasn’t necessarily been documented,” Dapilos said. “But I think if more organizations are aware of this — organizations that can maybe contribute to some of thoee determinants that youth are facing — it could definitely help out.”
Mental health support is also crucial to helping students succeed, say some members of the team.
Crystal Kisakye graduated three weeks ago and called high school a “roller coaster.” She helped formulate some of the questions for the surveys and says she wasn’t really surprised by the results.
She recalls how scary it was for her to voluntarily decide to go see the school counsellor — a hurdle for students who might worry about what their peers think.
She suggests that could be solved if there was a requirement for all students to have at least one session with the counsellor.
“If someone had told me, ‘Oh, yeah, you have to go do this,’ I’ll be like, ‘OK,'” she said.
“I’d talk to my friends, like, ‘Oh no, I have to do this,’ but really I’d be excited to go talk to somebody about it without me feeling like it was weird, even though it’s not.”
Desiree Pitt, another member of the team who’s going into her last year of high school, said the stigma around mental health is less than it used to be, but it still exists.
“I hope people can use the information we found to improve the education system and maybe improve graduation rates, and provide more mental supports,” she said.
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