Clarissa Jacobs has seen many First Nations students experience a culture shock that often hinders academic success when they arrive at college from small schools on their reservations.

“For them to be in big classes can be overwhelming,” said Jacobs, a high school counsellor from Akwesasne reserve near Cornwall. “They can be afraid to speak to their instructors, afraid to raise their hands and ask questions.”

This week, Jacobs and 15 students from Akwesasne are taking part in Dream Quest, a weeklong camp for Aboriginal youth at Algonquin College.

Around 100 First Nations students from Grades 9 to 12 get a taste of college life, while living in residence and taking classes at the college’s Woodroffe Campus.

As part of Algonquin’s career samplers for youth day camps, students spend the week taking courses in a subject area that is offered to regular students at the college.

John Small, a team leader with Dream Quest and college student from Moose Factory, said there is definitely a need for a program like this.

“Many of the students come from reserves where there are limited opportunities and this gives them an idea of what kind of opportunities they could get if they worked hard on their education,” he said.

Dream Quest is a chance for the college to recruit prospective students while providing marginalized members of society the same opportunity as everyone else, said Dwight Powless with Algonquin College.

The program is only in its second year, and Powless said they are already considering providing separate senior camps for those graduating high school within the next couple of years.

“Grade 9s aren’t really considering what their future is going to be. Grade 11 and 12, it’s a little more prominent in their minds where they’re going to go after high school,” he said.