Standing Tall was developed by the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) as a three-year pilot program to research the effects of community involvement in education. As a result of the preliminary findings of the pilot, there has been additional funding to continue the program and determine the next steps. In 2012, the Standing Tall program transferred to the Louis Riel Institute (LRI), uniting it with educational and cultural programming of the LRI.
The concept "Standing Tall" was based on an educational concept from New Zealand created by and for its indigenous people. It is an adaptation of the Maori program, "Tu Tangata," literally translated means "standing tall", which denoted the pride the Elders in the Maori community wanted for its younger people. Tu Tangata was initiated because the indigenous community could see its children were struggling in the public school system, with poor attendance, high suspensions and drop-out rates and an increase in gang involvement and drug and alcohol use.
Statistics show Maori people have made gains in terms of educational attainment however, they continue to attain lower educational rates than non-Maori. Additionally, the drop-out rates for Maori are 6% higher than for non-Maori, (Statistics New Zealand). Canada and New Zealand may be on the other side of the world, but the statistics regarding Aboriginal people are quite similar. Aboriginal students are seen as "at risk" in the public education system. Although Métis students seem to fair better than First Nations students, they fall within this umbrella. As the political voice for the Métis in Manitoba, The Manitoba Metis Federation used knowledge gathered through the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry and the Royal Commission for Aboriginal Peoples to seek out international programming that would support the Métis people.
Over the next few years, the MMF would spend time researching the model in New Zealand, invite the founders of the program to Canada and begin to develop the Standing Tall model. There were several consultations held with numerous stakeholders in education as well as leaders in government. Manitoba's Aboriginal and Northern Affairs and the Aboriginal Education Directorate financially supported initial planning.
The MMF's vision for Standing Tall is to create, build and support healthy Métis families. The primary goal of this innovative community-based program is to have a positive impact on the self-esteem of Métis students while increasing participation of the Métis community in the public school system. It should be noted that this program was initiated by the Métis, yet it supports all students, especially Aboriginal students.
When researching sites for the pilot, it was important to choose schools that not only had high Aboriginal populations but also administrators who supported the concept. There was also a strong collaboration between the Manitoba Metis Federation and the Winnipeg School Division (WSD) as it involved Métis people hired by the MMF to work in public schools within the WSD. The project was piloted in two inner city schools in Winnipeg - Niji Mahkwa and William Whyte. Through collaboration with the school administrators, it was decided that the focus would be in middle-years classrooms.
The New Zealand prototype began with volunteers from the school community who were interested in helping students succeed. The program founders discovered that the success of the program required a commitment to employment, therefore, in our program, eight adults from the Aboriginal community continue to be employed, along with one Provincial Coordinator. The majority of funding provided through Manitoba Aboriginal and Northern Affairs and Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy (ASETS) is used to pay the salaries of program employees.
The eight full time employees who work directly with program participants spend the majority of their time supporting students. They spend each day in the classroom, working alongside students, helping them succeed academically and socially. If students need support outside the classroom, they use the Cultural Learning Nest, a comfortable furnished room developed for the program.
Standing Tall employees are considered a bridge to the community. Even though the initial staff were considered part of the larger Aboriginal community, they weren't as closely linked as the current staff who live in the immediate neighbourhood and are either parents or grandparents of children in the community. The larger Métis community supports the cultural programming.
The Nest was a component that originated in New Zealand, where program schools created a community room within the school to encourage families to be part of the school setting. These rooms had their own private exterior door where parents came and went during the day and into the evening. Since both program schools had parent rooms with active parent programs, this concept was adapted to support student learning and cultural awareness.
A key component that sets Standing Tall apart from other educational initiatives is that it has a cultural component. In New Zealand, the employees were Elders who brought with them a wealth of information about their culture. Due to the history of Aboriginal people in Canada, the adults of the Aboriginal community here do not necessarily carry a wealth of cultural knowledge. In fact, in some cases there is a void of knowledge. It was considered vital to have additional cultural support as part of the program, which translated into inviting guest speakers and entertainers who shared their knowledge with students and project employees.
Ongoing training continues for the staff of Standing Tall through the Louis Riel Institute's Provincial Coordinator. Through this training, employees learn about their culture, the public education system and how to work with students. Initial training focused on gathering data for the project. As the project developed and employees changed, the training moved toward Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) to Mature High School Diploma courses. These courses were offered to employees and parents.
For further information on the program or if you would like the opportunity to help us expand the program, contact Sharon Varga - Provincial Coordinator for Standing Tall at 204-984-9480.
Click here for a printable brochure with further information on the Standing Tall program.
Click here for Standing Tall research report.
Standing Tall Program Promotional Video