Cree students graduate from special transition program in Quebec junior college

It was a joyous celebration at John Abbott College in Montreal as a group of Cree students graduated from a special transition program, which prepared them for the next chapter of their academic journey.

As she changed into her gown along with her classmates, Christina Pachano, 23, said she was nervous and excited for her name to be called and to walk across the stage.

“(This program) gave me more options, actually. When I was in high school, we just learned what was in the curriculum. For this program, the teachers asked us what we wanted to learn,” Pachano explained.

The Iyeskuwiiu program was created through a collaboration between the Cree School Board and John Abbott. This year’s cohort is the third and largest to date, according to the junior college.

Pachano said the one-year virtual springboard program gave her the confidence to pursue higher education. The best part? She got to stay with her family in her community of Chisasibi.

Kim Martin, from the Mohawk community Kahnawake, is the dean of Indigenous Education at the college.

“I think it does help because it offers this opportunity for students to get a little bit more familiar and comfortable with the pace of college learning and assignments and deadlines and things like that,” Martin said in an interview.

“This is something that brings a lot of stress sometimes to students. And so, we work to help them overcome those issues.”

The transition program was developed specifically for Cree students through consultation with elders, educators, and experts from the nation. The courses are rooted in Cree values and worldview, according to John Abbott.

Sarah Pash, the chairperson of the Cree School Board, called the program a success.

“We see high numbers of graduations from this program, and we also have noticed a difference in our post-secondary students and the feedback we are getting them, those post-secondary students who have left the community,” she said during an interview before the ceremony.

Pachano now plans on working for the next little while before starting at Heritage College in Gatineau. Although she said she does not know what she will end up studying, she noted she enjoys working with kids.

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