As a Grade 11 student living on her own, Sara Gearing’s life was hectic and the pressures of school, work and budgeting soon took their toll. She began skipping classes and then dropped out. When she eventually returned to school, she was excited to learn about a program designed especially for students like her.
“The program did wonders for me,” the Oshawa resident says of Durham College’s Centre for Success. “I was able to complete my high school diploma and earn a college credit. I loved the atmosphere — everyone took their education seriously and wanted to be there.”
The program is designed to decrease dropout rates by engaging students at risk of not completing their high school diploma, says program co-ordinator and professor Susan Pratt. It’s offered on the college campus and demonstrates the many pathways available to post-secondary education.
Students are selected for the program by the student success team at their high school. “This sends students an important message,” says Pratt. “It tells them that we acknowledge that they have had problems or made poor choices in high school but that somebody is championing them and believes they can make it in an adult learning environment or college environment.”
A secondary school teacher from the school districts supported by the program creates an individual education plan for each student. The teacher provides support and instruction on the college campus as students earn high school credits or complete courses through credit recovery or credit continuation.
At the same time, students enrol in a college-level course taught by college faculty and receive dual credit for successful completion of the course work. This credit counts towards their high school diploma and will be recognized by the college if they choose a program for which the course is a requirement.
Because the first semester of college coincides with the first semester of high school, students in the program can choose from a wide variety of dual credits and can be part of a regular college class. But even in the second semester, selection is wide and can include introduction to psychology, history of popular music, sheet metal fabrication, marketing and business.
For Gearing, the opportunity to work at her own pace provided additional incentive. “I needed 12 credits in order to graduate from high school, which would have taken a lot longer at high school,” says the 19-year-old. She was valedictorian of her graduating class and is now working towards a legal administration/law clerk diploma at Durham College.
The Centre for Success has grown by leaps and bounds since it began as a pilot project in 2006 at an Ajax high school with 14 students. Five years later, it attracts up to 150 students each semester. About 90% of students who begin the program complete their high school diploma.
“The kids give it all they’ve got. A lot of them realize they messed up and understand that this isn’t just a second chance but an awesome second chance,” says Pratt. “They blossom.”
Durham College’s Centre for Success is supported by the Ontario Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities’ School College Work Initiative. It offers students at risk of leaving secondary school an opportunity to complete their education on a college campus. The program accepts students from four area school districts: Durham District, Durham Catholic District, Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District, and Kawartha Pine Ridge District school boards.