The province is putting its weight behind a project focused on First Nations and Metis students.

Last year six schools piloted a program called “Following Their Voices” that follows recommendations made by FSIN through the Joint Task Force on Improving Education and Employment Outcomes.

This year, the program is more than doubling its reach as the province rolls it out to five on-reserve schools and 12 off-reserve schools.

With a student body that’s 90 per cent aboriginal, Prince Albert’s Wesmor Community School was a good fit for the pilot program last year.

Its principal and teachers say they’ve seen drastic changes since then, and it all boils down to communication and respect.

The program’s facilitator Jodi Letendre explains:

“We joined because of our attendance rates and the fact that our kids were not engaged and they were not coming, and home was falling apart, and all of those issues that you may think would be overwhelming. Now, with ‘Following Their Voices’ we worry about those things, we provide those students with those agencies and guide them in the right direction. But it’s about teachers taking ownership of their own classrooms and what they can do to make a difference.”

As one could guess, a lot of what they do requires the facilitator to interact with teachers.

But longtime teacher Tricia Lucyshyn says it doesn’t feel like they’re singled out at all.

“Teaching’s always been isolated, and we shut the doors and we do our own thing in there. And this has been so liberating to be able to, it’s okay to say ‘I don’t know and I’m struggling with this,'” Lucyshyn said.

And on Wednesday, Education Minister Don Morgan saw it in action. He explained how the program fits into a much larger goal.

“As a province we don’t do well enough with First Nations, Metis graduation rates so we’ve made it a target to close the gap by at least half by the year 2020. So we’re making some progress but we know we have a lot of work to do and this is part of it,” he said.

Recently, FSIN and the province signed an agreement that recognizes First Nations authority over education. Morgan acknowledges it was high time that aboriginal communities and the government work together on educational programs like this.

“We have a committee that was struck for developing the program that had a large number, or majority of people that were First Nations background, there were people that were not just First Nations but had education background as well. And we worked through FSIN and a number of entities to try and get good support all the way across,” Morgan said.

The “Following Their Voices” program is being rolled out on five on-reserve schools and 12 off-reserve.

Some federal funds are used with the schools on First Nations.