Specialized program keeps teens in school

PHILIP WALKER/kitchener-waterloo record


Samantha Edwards, 16, and Steven Oakes, 17, have regained an interest in education through a credit recovery program at Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate Institute.

In another era not at all long ago, Steven Oakes and Samantha Edwards might have left school by now.

Maybe they’d be working. Maybe not. But at 17 and 16, respectively, they could have quit school quite legally.

Not anymore, not since December. That’s when Ontario became the second Canadian province to mandate that students have to stay in school until they graduate or turn 18.

Luckily for Oakes and Edwards, who have thought seriously about dropping out but are still at Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate Institute, there are now various “student success” programs to help them graduate.

For all Oakes’ clean-cut looks, he’s had a lot of trouble with school.

Grade 9 was fine. He managed to get a full slate of credits. But in Grade 10, he failed two classes. Then, in Grade 11, he didn’t earn any credits at all.

The basic problem? He wasn’t going to classes. In fact, he made it to fewer than 20 per cent of them. Sitting in a classroom wasn’t for him — unless he was disrupting it as the class clown.

Oakes admits he’s not a fan of rules. He doesn’t like them at home either, which led to him getting an apartment with a buddy for a few months last year.

With no job and no money, things were tough, he admits now. “I thought it would be a lot easier to live on my own, but it wasn’t.”

Eventually, he went home, but he still didn’t go to class. In August, he got a letter telling him to not bother coming back to school. His attendance, behaviour and achievement were too poor.

However, Oakes talked his way back into school a week after classes started last September. He says he’d finally realized he needed his diploma.

Mostly, the realization came from the example of his brother, who didn’t graduate. At 21, he only gets temporary labour jobs that pay $10 an hour or less.

“I looked at him, and I thought, I don’t want to be like that,” says Oakes.

The credit-recovery class has been helping. The program, which started last school year, puts teachers such as Leah Belanger into a designated classroom where she can help students as they work independently toward completing courses they’ve failed.

Oakes has already finished a half-credit course through the program and is working toward another. His attendance has improved dramatically.

How much work is involved in “recovering” a credit depends on the situation, said Belanger. A student might only need to complete an assignment he or she didn’t do originally, or may need to do the whole course again. Either way, the environment is more supportive.

In a credit-recovery classroom, there are far fewer students and distractions. That helps Edwards, who has attention deficit disorder.

She has trouble concentrating in regular classes. In the past, when she got confused, she’d often ask other students to help her, which would distract them and annoy the teachers.

Last school year, she skipped a lot of school and thought about dropping out.

“I just really saw no point in school,” she said.

Now, Edwards wants to go to college, maybe even university. She’d like to be a massage therapist or care for animals. The idea of having to stay in school until she’s 18 is OK with her.

“I think it’s actually a really good law,” she said.