Background: Several years ago, the Right Honourable Paul Martin and his family recognized the need for a program to encourage Aboriginal youth to stay in school where they can develop the attitudes, knowledge and skills necessary to achieve success in secondary school, postsecondary education or training, the workplace and daily life.
With this goal in mind the Martin family established the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative (MAEI) to support the design and implementation of a pilot program with the agreement of the Grand Chief and Council of the Nishnawke-Aski Nation.
To date the program is successfully operating in secondary schools in Edmonton, Regina, Prince Rupert, Winnipeg and Thunder Bay. The future goal of this initiative is to expand even further.
Program Overview: With input from the Aboriginal leaders, business community and educators to ensure the program materials met the learning needs of Aboriginal students, the program was first offered from September to December 2007 at Dennis Franklin Cromarty First Nation High School in Thunder Bay. The students are residents of remote fly-in First Nations in Northwestern Ontario, who live in boarding homes in Thunder Bay while attending secondary school.
The program is based on the Grade 11 and 12 Ontario Senior Business Studies, supplemented by material developed by the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship to Youth (NFTE). NFTE has been in existence for over 25 years and its program is used in 14 countries, including the USA, the UK, Ireland, Belgium, and Israel.
The MAEI program is designed to improve students’ proficiency in Business Mathematics, English, Accounting, Marketing, and Information and Communications Technology, while supporting the acquisition of leadership skills. Teaching strategies include classroom instruction, simulations, competitions, guest speakers, field trips to businesses and mentoring. The program is closely monitored and the success is determined through both quantitative and qualitative measures. Case studies, teaching strategies and examples of successful Canadian Aboriginal business leaders are also included.
Using innovative hands-on activities, guest speakers, and business mentors, Aboriginal students learn how to create a product or service-based business. Funding is provided to start each micro-business and using the services of local banks, students open and maintain accounts, and must comply with all required record keeping and other accountability measures. Students are given entrepreneurial experience and the opportunity for business ownership.
Partnerships: This program would not be realizing such success without the support and encouragement of many partners:
Experienced business people serve as mentors to encourage, listen, give advice, advocate, act as role models, share information and experiences. The mentors help students develop employability skills through encouraging and modeling traits such as reliability, dependability, communication skills, teamwork and knowledge of proper attire and language. They assist students to set goals, make personal decisions, and resolve problems. The mentoring experience
not only provides the student with an important relationship, but empowers them to use the experience to plan and work toward the future.
Volunteers from the business community judge business plan competitions, speak to students on specific topics and arrange tours of their workplaces for the class.
Banks provide financial information, offer job-shadowing opportunities for students, speak to the class on aspects of banking, and support students as they establish their business accounts.
Colleges and universities serve a number of roles:
- arrange for students and staff to serve as mentors;
- encourage Aboriginal youth through scholarships;
- host student business competitions;
- establish outreach programs in secondary schools to encourage students to enrol in post-secondary programs, and
- conduct research on the program. For example, Lakehead University monitored the program to ensure continued development.
A Real Success Story: As a result of taking the course, a student in one of the locations established a business to make dog biscuits. By the end of the course he had orders for almost 50 dozen biscuits.
The school held a celebration night for the Entrepreneurship students’ families, mentors and other supporters. The student sold bags of dog biscuits at the event and handed out his business cards to seek more customers.
After a presentation about the program at the board meeting, the student told the media that this program has changed his life.
This is just one success story. In future issues we plan to highlight more real success stories.
Media Coverage: Various news articles
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