High school was a breeze for Montana Doell; yeah, he’d fail some tests, but he’d study enough before the end of the semester that he always passed.
Last year, as the school term ended, he was planning to be done with school, even though he had one more semester of Grade 12 to complete.
He was finished. Kaput. Time to get a job and earn some money.
His high school native counsellor had other plans. She signed him up for the TRU Start program, a pilot started at that time for First Nations students to help support them at university.
Doell said Friday he didn’t plan on taking the program or going to TRU right up until classes began.
But he gave it a shot, and was with the same group of students and same teachers for his first year.
“You really develop personal relationships with everybody,” he said.
He also had to take more responsibility for getting his assignments done.
“The program gave me a chance to buckle down and try better.”
Doell isn’t alone in procrastinating. Alexis Manuel, a fourth-year English student at TRU who mentored the students, said that was one of the most common issues that came up with the group.
One of the other sticking points was statistics class, which Manuel, as an English major, couldn’t help with much.
But she did get a chance to offer support, and watched the students as they learned to take on assignments and get things done.
“A lot of aboriginal students don’t ask for help,” she said.
They don’t know what to expect, or they don’t know anyone else on campus, or they don’t know what supports are available to them, she added.
TRU Start for aboriginal students is aimed at helping to reduce the drop-out rate for First Nations.
Manuel said almost half of aboriginal students quit university in their first year.
Doell’s group made it out in its entirety; all 12 students completed their classes.
They had other people to rely on, like “Uncle” Mike Arnouse, one of four First Nations elders in residence at TRU.
Joanne Brown, co-ordinator of aboriginal student services at TRU, said each elder has something different to offer, but they all come with a vast knowledge and wisdom to pass on.
Arnouse said deep down, First Nations and whites don’t really know that much about each other. There’s a lack of knowledge about each other’s cultures, and for aboriginals, there’s trauma from past generations that’s affecting others in varying ways.
Unemployment rates are high on reserves, so education is big factor for future generations, he said.
“The things that have happened among our people — they’re healing and coming out of it,” he said.
“Education is important.”
For Doell, who is now set on getting a bachelor of arts, and then a social work degree, TRU Start for aboriginals was an immense help in keeping him — and the rest of his group — in school.
“We now know what university is like,” he said.
“We all go on our own paths now.”
Doell said he’s changed in his first year on campus.
“Before I came here, I was your classic 17-year-old boy,” he said.
“I had to take on more responsibility.”