Kahleah Bodry, a Metis student who has two learning disabilities and who “didn’t even think that grade 12 would even come,” is on the cusp of graduating from high school and heading to university.

It’s a future she wasn’t able to imagine for herself a few short years ago.

“I’m not really good with school,” she said. “I was always kind of frustrated because [school] was just kind of hard because I just didn’t get it and the teachers didn’t know and so they just couldn’t help me.”

Her struggles began to change when she was diagnosed with a reading disorder and a mathematical disorder. She was able to have accommodations made in her classes, including using a calculator in math class and having a reader and scribe support her when she takes her exams.

“Now that I have accommodations, I’m able to get my work in, I’m able to understand how I’m learning and how I need to tell the teachers how I learn,” she said.

When Kahleah moved to the Valley in Grade 10, she found the Aboriginal Education Support Services – and Monica Fisher in particular – at David Thompson Secondary School (DTSS) incredibly helpful.

“She cares a whole lot about the students. She cares about what happens to them, the outcomes for things,” Kahleah said. “She’s basically kept me on a very strict schedule to hand all my assignments in and everything, and I find it very helpful.”

From providing learning strategies, tutoring, food and more, Kahleah said the program is “basically there to help you get through school.”

Emotional support and practical solutions are also on hand.

“I’ve cried in there a couple times. I just get stressed about having not-good-enough grades, and they’d help me, making a schedule for what I need to hand in to get the grades I need,” she said.

The two Aboriginal Education Support staff helped her so much that Kahleah doesn’t talk about how she navigated high school. Instead she sees her scholastic achievements as a team effort, saying: “once we figured out what we needed to graduate then we put it all together.”

Kahleah said that, while she doesn’t pull in the highest grades, she’s really pleased with her marks.

“I never actually worked this hard in my whole life, but I feel like I’ve really like overcome a lot of the challenges I’ve had. Yeah, it’s harder for me to get the grades I want, but still I work really hard at it. I’m really proud I’m actually going to graduate,” she said.

Also proud of her is DTSS principal Darren Danyluk, who called Kahleah “a pretty driven young lady” who is “well along the path of planning her future.”

Mr. Danyluk said the school has an overall graduation rate of around 90 per cent, but that across the district there is about a 10 per cent difference in graduation rates between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students.

“Over the longer span of time I’ve seen a consistent parallel, with the gap closing,” he said about his 21-year tenure at DTSS. “We still fare well, but we’ve got lots of work to do… It is something we look at and feel pretty strongly about and proud about.”

Kahleah is heading to Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops after graduation, where she is going to study biology. Once she earns her degree, she wants to head to the Maritimes to specialize in marine biology.

Picking the Kamloops campus was an easy choice for her because she had already seen it and taken a few tester classes there, including a lecture on pirates and a CSI geology course on how sand could be used to solve a crime. Her scouting trip was offered through the Aboriginal Education Support program, which took around a dozen students to check out a series of campuses and find a good fit.

Kahleah encourages other students to ask for what they need.

“If you’re struggling in school, just try to reach out to a teacher… The main thing is just to ask for help and not just think you can do it yourself because I used to think I could just do it myself but it turns out I couldn’t do it myself and you need those supports,” she said.

For other First Nations students, she said: “Keep working hard, and then you’ll get what you want. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.”