Former Prime Minister Paul Martin visits local school to launch Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurial Program

By Lindsay Ducharme

The Fort McMurray Public School District welcomed the Right Honourable Paul Martin to the region on December 12th to formally launch the Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurial Program at Composite High School.

“The Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurial Program is founded and supported by the Right Honourable Paul Martin, former Prime Minister of Canada,” explained Brenda Sautner, associate superintendent, Fort McMurray Public School District.  “The primary goal of this program is to encourage our students who are Aboriginal or First Nations to stay in school. The program focuses on developing the attitudes, knowledge and skills necessary to achieve success on school, training, work place or future college/university studies.”

Sautner said the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative (MAEI) was created in an effort to bring Aboriginal organizations, including Northern Aboriginal Business Association of Alberta (NABAA), business community, including Suncor, ConocoPhillips, and Marathon Oil, together with high school students. Sautner stressed that the involvement of local businesses and mentors allows success to thrive as they provide students with strategies, business tips and ideas for future use in work or studies.

“With the legislated changes to the Education Act in Alberta, the fundamental goal of education in Alberta is to inspire all students to achieve success and reach their full potential by developing competencies as engaged thinkers and ethical citizens with an entrepreneurial spirit – and who contribute to a strong and prosperous economy and society,” she added.

The Right Honourable Paul Martin met with the students enrolled, as well as staff involved in, the MAEI program at Composite High School. His visit allowed students a rare opportunity to engage in an “informal” conversation with Martin, in which students were encouraged to discuss “possible business opportunities, listen to business

cases proposed by the students and answer any questions they may have.  In addition, Mr. Martin will meet with staff, our Elders, local dignitaries, as well as funders, supporting the Entrepreneurial Program for our students,” Sautner explained.

“FMPSD is honoured to have this level of support from Mr. Martin and his level of recognition of the results our public schools have been able to achieve for our students. With the support from Mr. Martin and the support from local industry leaders and business leaders, our students are provided an absolutely incredible support system to be more successful in completing their studies at high school and pursue a career or further studies in business,” she continued.

According to Alberta Education the high school completion rate for FMNI students in Fort McMuray Public Schools is currently 29.8 percent higher than results from other Alberta school districts. While the dropout rate of FNMI students from high school was six percent lower than the provincial average.  Fort McMurray Public School FNMI students exceeded provincial FNMI results on the provincial achievement tests by five percent and diploma exams by eight percent.

Although the MAEI is a new initiative, Sautner is hopeful it will only continue to improve upon the district’s success with FMNI students. “For the Honourable Paul Martin’s support, including taking the time to come to Fort McMurray and meeting the students and staff at Composite High School, we are absolutely grateful and sincerely indebted to him for helping us make a difference for our Aboriginal students in our public schools.”