Interview: Working with Students at the Ranch Erhlo Transition School

For this particular blog post, I interviewed my good friend Stacy Dighans regarding her experience working with youth at the Ranch Ehrlo Transition School.

What is the Ranch Erhlo Transition School?

Ranch Ehrlo Society has developed unique and innovative programs to assist children and youth.  Its mission is: “To provide quality programs to vulnerable youth in Saskatchewan and beyond, through social treatment and advocacy, of benefit to the individual, family and community” The culture at Ranch Ehrlo:  “Recognizes the dignity and personal value of vulnerable youth; builds a caring and nurturing environment for people; manages behavioural problems through trust and relationships; works to strengthen families and communities; and maintains a high level of competence throughout the organization.”

     The Ranch is a place where students of all diverse cultures, backgrounds, needs, abilities, etc, come in order to better themselves. These children are vulnerable because of situations they have been in. The Ranch is a place where they can escape, get better and then transition back into “mainstream” schools. These students have been turned away by many educators and thrown into the pile of hypothetical “unsuccessful children.” What we have done with these students is a success story in its own. The Ranch as created a new life for these children. 

What can you tell me about the students at the Ranch?

     The majority of the students at Ranch Ehrlo find themselves in oppressive situations. Most of them come from the minority, whether it is because of culture or ability level. One thing that I did notice was the high number of Aboriginal students in the Ranch Ehrlo Transition School. Colonialism has resulted in many difficulties within the Aboriginal communities in Saskatchewan. Many Aboriginal families are still suffering the effects of residential schools, which left many not trusting schools so it is very difficult for these students to be in situations where they are taught by white middle class teachers. Moreover, the impact of colonialism led to Aboriginal people being settled in areas where there was little inclusion in the European economic system. All of this has led to European people feeling “superior” and First Nations student and people feeling “inferior.” This has grounds for anyone to feel unwelcome when in the presence of a white teacher. As for ability levels, students with exceptional needs have always been marginalized and we are trying to create inclusivity to be able to bring the minority back into the classroom. However, in the case of the students at the transition school there are so many more reasons that they may be there. We can’t just judge by the surface, we need to know the background in order to know the real roots behind feeling oppressed. Ranch Ehrlo is a part of the wider Canadian and Saskatchewan society, which was founded on racist beliefs that Aboriginal people are “less than” white people. The high number of Aboriginal students in Ranch Ehrlo point to the fact that we have not moved beyond the racist beliefs of the past and that our society is still functioning on the pretence that the white way is the right way. On the surface we have become a more accepting society but the deep-rooted racism still exists.

Did you ever experience something like this where you grew up?

     I grew up in a very racist home, where my dad and grandfather would joke on a regular basis about First Nations people. Even though we seem to be an accepting society, racism is the way most of us were raised. We have to make conscious decisions to change the way we raise our children, educate our students and present our beliefs in society.  However, I disagree with the fact that we think just because they are in Ranch Ehrlo, they must be First Nations because I say many students that were from diverse cultures. In fact, in Weyburn, where I grew up, we have a school called the “Bridge School” which is exactly like the transition school in ways that these are students coming from criminal backgrounds, abusive homes, etc. The point I am making is that these students in the “Bridge School” are all white. Society is not marginalizing these students based on their race; they are being marginalized based on their situations.

Where do you now stand on the importance of this experience?

     This experience has been an eye opener for me. It is very important to understand that as educators we will be exposed to a variety of children, some in the same situations as these at the Ranch. It is important to understand that these students do not learn the same way as others because of their past experiences with schooling. It is also important to create an imbalance in our own lives with the frustration of working with these students, so we are able to appreciate the privileges we do have and use those to adapt our teaching to accommodate all learners. The skills I have developed are unexplainable because of the amount of emotion that has been attached to these weeks. I came into this thinking I would be another white teacher coming in to try and help these children read. I now know that I did so much more. I was that ear to listen, I was that arm to hold onto, I was that shoulder to cry on and I was that friend in need. My professor said that this experience was about learning how to teach different students, but I think this experience was learning how to appreciate diversity. I obtained all the skills that I sought out to acquire. Critical thinking, self discipline and management skills, ability to adapt certain programs to meet the needs of the student, taking risks, reasoning and understanding were the skills I wanted to get out of this experience. I did that and I can take those skills and use them in my future classrooms if and when I get students who have had similar backgrounds to those of the children at the Ranch.

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