Girl smilingIn a classroom in the South Slave Region of the Northwest Territories, students leave their books and desks to one side, gathering in a circle in the middle of the room.

They are about to begin a warm-up exercise as part of the Healthy Relationships Plus program developed by the Fourth R, a violence-prevention organization based in London, ON. The Fourth R’s healthy relationships curriculum is already offered in 5,000 schools across Canada. Now, funding from the Canadian Women’s Foundation is helping expand the program into schools in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

Young people in the North struggle with many of the same problems experienced by youth in southern provinces, including substance abuse, mental health issues, dating violence, bullying, and suicide. “The difference is, the rates are much higher here,” says Ray Hughes, National Education Coordinator with the
Fourth R.

To ensure the students can relate to the content, the Fourth R has developed customized course materials that reflect the local cultures and issues. Students learn to resolve conflict and manage high-risk behaviour through interactive workshops and tools such as videos and role-playing. Teachers serve as facilitators and coaches, rather than “the person with all the answers.”

“When you go into an Aboriginal community, you need to build trust,” Ray says. “There are so many researchers that drop in and fly out and they never hear from them again. When local officials heard our plan was about sustainability, that we have some funding from the Canadian Women’s Foundation that isn’t just one year—that was an important thing.”

The Fourth R’s northern programs, serving grades 7 to 9 in Arviat, Yellowknife, and the Regions of Tlicho, Sahtu, Dehcho, and South Slave, receive 4-year funding from the Canadian Women’s Foundation.

“One really interesting thing we heard in three sites was that all of them reported a reduction in homophobic comments and a more accepting environment for LGBTQ youth.”—Ray Hughes, National Education Coordinator for the Fourth R in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. 

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