SUDBURY - The Rainbow District School Board and the N’Swakamok Native Friendship Centre in Sudbury signed their annual memorandum of understanding on Wednesday for the N’swakamok Native Alternative School.

Those involved say the document is a way to ensure success for all Indigenous students.

31-year-old A.J. Chapais has been a student at the friendship centre since he was 19-years-old.

He says the facility has been one of the most important staples in his life.

“School's always been a real struggle for me, so the native friendship centre offered me the ability to work at my own pace, to come in around my schedule. The faculty is so persistent and caring, that they never give up on you. That support and that unconditional love almost is what kind of draws you back to the school," said Chapais.

And for students like Chapais, there’s a cultural component that helps connect them with the learning process.

Heather Downey is the principal of N’Swakamok Native Alternative School.

"It’s academic, it’s emotional, it’s social economic, and we work together with them to ensure them that they each find success  in every way, and it’s developing the entire learner," said Downey.

Throughout his time at the school, Chapais has been learning about his native heritage and history something he knew little about. 

"In any other school I‘ve been to, I was never taught that; and here, I have that opportunity to learn about my history, so it's very important. This is a very special place," said Chapais.

And the school’s coordinator, Kelly Lee Assinewe, agrees. Assinewe has seen many success stories like Chapais’.

"Personal things happen in their lives, so they may not come back to the schoo,l but then they end up coming back later on or they’ll end up coming back the following year, once things get settled for them," said Assinewe.

The friendship centre and the Rainbow District School Board have been partners in this project since 1990, and those involved say they are happy with the results. 

15 to 20 students graduate from the school each year.

"Year after year, we see an increase of students who are in attendance daily. And year after year, we see an increase of students who are registered in the program," said Downey.

Meanwhile, Chapais is one credit away from graduating and now looking at some new career opportunities, something that he says would not have been possible without this alternative school.