Aboriginal teens hone math, English skills at SFU camp

Twenty-six teens from around B.C. are up on Burnaby Mountain this month sharpening their math and English skills at SFU’s third Academic Summer Camp for Aboriginal Students.

During the free, month-long camp, the Grade 9 to 11 students, who hail from 17 different nations in Vancouver, Burnaby, Coquitlam, Kamloops, New Westminster, North Vancouver, Port Moody, Richmond and Bella Bella, take part in campus tours, academic sessions, workshops, field trips, and sports and cultural activities.

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“Our main objective is to help aboriginal students feel empowered and to realize that the university is a place for them,” said SFU professor and mathematics associate chair Veselin Jungic, who founded the camp three years ago.

Jungic said the camp was modelled on a similar initiative at UBC, and the goal is to both accelerate students’ math and English performance and to connect them with the university’s aboriginal community.

“Our hope is to have the balance between the culture and the education,” said Indigenous Student Centre director Marcia Guno, who was on hand last Thursday to help students craft medicine bags.

Burnaby Central student Diana Charlie, who is attending the camp for the second time, said she was more confident after participating last year.

“When I first came here last year, I was super shy,” she said. “I was so shy, but after this camp, it boosted my confidence.”

Charlie said there are aboriginal students at Central, but the sense of community is stronger at the camp.

“We’re not really connected like this (at Central). Here we get to know one another and where we’re from and each person’s culture,” she said. “Now I know there’s other First Nations students in the community, in Burnaby but also Surrey, Richmond, New West and North Van.”

Krista Wesley, who lives in Burnaby but goes to school in Vancouver, is at the camp for the first time to work on her academic skills, with her sights set on a career in paleontology.

“I’m not really great at math, so I want to improve on that,” she said.

Math, according to Jungic, has been a barrier to getting more aboriginal students into SFU’s faculties of science and engineering, where the numbers of aboriginal students has been persistently low.

“Low is an understatement,” Jungic said. “The main reason for that is mathematics. Students are coming out of high school without prerequisites that are needed to get into calculus courses.”

That’s one of the main reasons the SFU professor started the camp.

Anecdotally, he said, his efforts appear to be paying off.

“I have a reason to think that we are directing our previous participants towards university studies in general and at least a few of them towards science and applied science in particular,” he said.

For more information about the camp, visit mathcatcher.irmacs.sfu.ca.

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