Sept. 7, 2000 Vol . 19, No. 1

Young aboriginal dropouts studied

By Marianne Meadahl

A recent survey of B.C. high school students on issues related to adolescent health and well-being shows that youth, including aboriginal youth, are generally doing well.

But Kim van der Woerd (right) says there's much more to learn about the state of health among aboriginal youth. The SFU master's student in experimental psychology was recently awarded the B.C. Health Research Foundation studentship, worth $17,000, to conduct research on the well-being of aboriginal youth who were not surveyed -- the high numbers who drop out of school.

Van der Woerd says while the number of dropouts among B.C.'s aboriginal youth isn't increasing, the rate hasn't improved over the past decade.

"Aboriginal youth still fail to complete high school at the same rate as other students, since approximately 64 per cent do not complete Grade 12 within six years of beginning Grade 8, compared with 26 per cent of all students," she says. While aboriginals attending high school generally fared well in the survey, they were also found to experience lower levels of emotional health and are far more likely to contemplate suicide and report racial discrimination than non-aboriginal students -- all negative factors that could possibly contribute to the elevated dropout rates of aboriginal students.

Van der Woerd, a member of the Namgis band in Alert Bay, spent the past year analysing data from the 1998 Adolescent Health Survey II (AHS II), a province-wide survey administered by the McCreary Centre Society to look at issues that influence the health of adolescents. A report on the findings, funded by Health Canada, will be released this fall. A similar survey was carried out in 1992 by the centre, which promotes health among youth.

About 26,000 students participated in the recent survey, including 1,700 who identified themselves as aboriginal.

Van der Woerd plans to take the AHS II into several B.C. aboriginal communities where she will administer the 127-question survey to youth who are not attending school.

"In terms of data on aboriginal youth, one of the survey's limitations is that it was only administered to aboriginal youth who were in school at the time," says van der Woerd, who will also examine the school survey results to identify similarities and differences between aboriginal and non-aboriginal youth and determine ways to improve their health status.

"It could be considered that attendance in school is a protective or moderating factor when it comes to the overall health of aboriginal youths," she adds.

Ministry of education figures show that while the average age that aboriginal youth leave school ­ 13 or 14 ­ is younger than that of non-aboriginal youth, the number of those who do complete is growing, and their grade point averages are increasing.

Figures also show that 13 per cent of aboriginal youth are eligible for university entrance, compared with 39 per cent of non-aboriginal youth. Six per cent actually apply for university or college, compared with 74 per cent of non-aboriginal youth.

Van der Woerd hopes the research will contribute to the development of programs designed to keep youths in school and improve their overall health status. "I anticipate that this project will provide insights that could be useful in developing effective interventions for health programs designed for First Nations youths," she says.

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