Two years ago, Oilfields High School student Tylie Jimmy John was ready to drop out of school.
The Eden Valley teen had faced years of difficult family circumstances, frequently changing schools and a poor attitude toward academics.
Yet, on June 25, Jimmy John will join her peers in her school’s graduation ceremony as she begins the process of pursuing a career in criminal justice as a way to help her community.
“One of my reasons for staying in school and achieving higher academics is to come back and help my community prosper,” said Jimmy John. “There is a big epidemic of drugs taking over the lives of some people in the community. The majority are youths. It breaks my heart to see my community suffer.”
Jimmy John didn't have a good start to her education. Having changed schools frequently due to family circumstances, she never attended one school long enough to excel.
“It was hard for me,” she said. “I struggled academically from all of this shifting.”
Jimmy John moved to Eden Valley from Morley late in her Grade 9 year and attended Chief Jacob Bearspaw Memorial School for two months. It was then that she decided to attend Oilfields High School the following school year.
“I really wanted to come to this school, but I ended up not liking it and I tried dropping out in November,” she said. “I was really struggling in my Grade 10 year. My grandma wouldn’t let me drop out. She forced me to keep attending the school.”
Reluctantly, Jimmy John heeded her grandmother’s words and in her second semester was impacted by the teachings in her Circle of Courage aboriginal studies option class.
Students attended numerous workshops and conferences, such as the Indigenous Youth Rising Conference at MacEwan University in Edmonton, which taught them about their culture and the importance of persevering academically.
“It motivated me and encouraged me to finish school and go to post-secondary,” she said.
That year, Jimmy John received honourable mention for The Honouring Spirit: Indigenous Student Awards, presented to exceptional indigenous students who model strength and commitment to their culture in pursuit of their personal education path.
Charity Tegler, Foothills School Division Indigenous learning facilitator, said Jimmy John was a worthy recipient due to her incredibly strong, hard-working and resilient nature.
“This young lady is incredibly phenomenal,” she said. “She has a very colourful story, she is a vibrant leader in the community and an amazing role model for all of our students in our school.
“My heart is bursting with pride. I can’t even imagine how her family must feel. She is destined for great things.”
Receiving honourable mention was a prideful experience for not only Jimmy John, but her entire family. Her grandmother hung the award up in their home proudly.
“I felt really good about receiving that,” said Jimmy John. “It made me reflect back to how hard I worked. When I received the award my dad and grandma were so thrilled, and showed everybody. They were already planning for my Grade 12 graduation.”
It was in Grade 11 that Jimmy John decided to take school seriously and focus on her grades with the support of her teachers.
“In Grade 11 I started to reach out for help,” she said. “That had a huge impact.”
The following spring, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and students were forced to complete their studies from home.
“With COVID it was tough, especially living out in a reserve that’s isolated,” Jimmy John said. “I couldn’t do online schooling at home because of family circumstances.”
In Grade 12, Jimmy John went back and forth between learning at home and at school.
Although she struggled, she received support from staff and a laptop from the school.
“Charity helped me keep on top of my work and she set up a structure for me at home,” she said.
To build up her credits, Jimmy John took on a special project on top of her existing studies that delved into the history of the cultural teachings and traditions around making regalia for Indigenous dances.
This helped Jimmy John earn the credits she needed to complete high school and pursue post-secondary studies.
The teen has been accepted into the Mount Royal University’s Indigenous University Bridging program, which removes barriers to Indigenous students applying to post-secondary programs and supports their transition to an undergraduate degree. The program supports cultural connections and reduced residence from students coming from remote communities.
“I heard stories from family members and friends who attended the program and they say it’s just great and the really enjoyed it,” said Jimmy John.
Once she completes the program, Jimmy John plans to pursue criminal justice as the first step to helping her community.
“This past year I’ve had people I knew and grew up with pass away,” she said. “It’s devastating because people are OD'ing from these drugs. I thought if I go into criminal justice maybe I could help my community.”
Read more from OkotoksToday.ca