New college program draws ‘overwhelming’ response here
The local Confederation College campus, in collaboration with the Rainy River District School Board, has launched a new program this fall which has seen an overwhelming response.
As part of the province’s School College Work Initiative, the School Within A College (SWAC) program supports individuals in completing high school and considering postsecondary education.
“The response has just been great—a little overwhelming, but in a good way,” she expressed, citing there are more than 40 students registered in Fort Frances in addition to students participating through distance education in Atikokan, Rainy River, and Big Grassy.
“So we have almost 50 students between the four locations,” she enthused. “That’s a lot of new people, but I think it’s a really good opportunity for people who want to learn in an adult environment, but still need to get that high school diploma.”
The SWAC program is for students 18 years and older.
“It’s targeted for those ages 18 to 21, but we are accepting students who are older than that,” Renaud noted. “Some were in high school last year, but didn’t complete, some that have been out of school for a few years and realized the importance of that high school diploma.”
“The benefit for the students is they’ll obtain their high school diploma and they get college credits at the same time,” echoed Fort Frances High School vice-principal Shane Bliss.
“And they get to do it in a setting unlike anything they’ve had the opportunity to learn in so far,” he added. “It’s outside of the high school—they get more of a college atmosphere taste.”
Students can take up to two college courses each term, in addition to the high school credits they require.
“We take a look at the graduation requirements. They still need 30 credits to graduate—18 compulsory courses, they need their 40 community hours, and they need to pass the Ontario Literacy course,” Bliss explained.
“Some students are coming in just needing one credit, so we’re asking them to sign up for a college credit, or they could sign up for two, but the one will go toward their graduation requirements,” he voiced, citing once the student has a couple of college courses on their time table, they look at the compulsory courses they need.
“The most common is the Grade 12 English course,” he noted. “We have about 25 kids right now working on Grade 12 English.”
“They can do all the different components, including the college courses, which is one component in order to get to that graduation goal,” Renaud expressed.
The program also offers many hands-on courses for the students to select.
“We have shop course, a culinary course, a multi-media course,” she indicated. “There maybe be something new they hadn’t thought they could pursue. It gives them a new view.”
Bliss noted that a few of these courses take place after school hours, starting between 3:30-4 p.m. each day.
“We wanted to try to offer some more hands-on courses because it would be more appealing to the students,” he said. “And for some of the students, the after school start time works better for them.”
Another course offered is a student success-type course, which focuses on how to study and be successful in school.
“So if they do continue on, and even if they don’t, it gives them some extra skills perhaps they didn’t have before,” Renaud noted.
In addition, students can also attain credits through work.
“So if they have a job in the community, we’ll treat it as a co-op and we can get them so additional credits for the works they are doing already,” added Bliss.
The SWAC program has been running in other parts of the province for a few years.
“We heard about it and got interested in it,” Renaud explained, citing the college and school board worked closely together to find out more about it and see if they could launch it here.
They applied for funding for the program last November and received the funds to start this fall.
“We went to a few conferences to see how other high schools and colleges were working together to make it happen,” she noted. “So we took the best ideas from those places and tried to see how we could make it work here.”
She added that as far as she is aware, the local program is the only one partnering with high schools that are so geographical distant, such as Atikokan, Rainy River, and Big Grassy.
“It’s pretty exciting because they don’t have a college presence there, but they still have the opportunity to take college courses,” she voiced.
Renaud indicated other schools have seen some success with the SWAC program.
“Students are completing high school and then they are much more likely to come to college and pursue post-secondary, apprenticeship, even go to university, which they may not have thought it was something they could do or wanted to do,” she voiced.
“It sort of opens that door, so we’re really hopeful that that will become a goal for a lot of these students,” she expressed. “They will get their high school diploma, but they also have another opportunity that they maybe didn’t know was there.”
The college and school board plan on continuing the SWAC program.
Those who are interested are encouraged to contact the local college. While it is too late to sign up for this semester, they will look at new students potentially in January.
“There are some students out there that it didn’t work out for whatever reason in the high school setting, it’s a great opportunity for them,” Bliss enthused, citing it is also good for students who have many credits to complete and think it will take two or three years to finish.
“With the paid co-op and the structure of this program, it can really make graduation much more realistic,” he stressed.
“It’s not a distant thing anymore, it’s something that’s within grasp for everybody.”