Co-op program gives direction to at-risk student

June 9, 2010
Struggling Saint Paul High School student Holly Meisner found direction through her co-op education placement.

NIAGARA FALLS — Holly Meisner was struggling.
studen with cat
Once a bright student at Saint Paul High School, she had become bored with her classes and her marks plummeted.

"I really didn't have any direction," the 18-year-old said.

"I was suffering a lot of anxiety. I wasn't doing well in class and I felt like I couldn't handle it all any more."

She felt her only option was to drop out of school.

Meisner was then referred to Saint Paul's student success strategy program, which works with at-risk students to help them earn the credits required for a diploma.

The program offers course options inside and outside the classroom and one-on-one support when students need extra help.

"It is about creating a curriculum suited to the individual student," said Matt Miani, senior student success teacher at Saint Paul.
"They provide us with their interests and we create a program around those interests."

For Meisner, her curriculum last year included a co-op placement at the Niagara Falls Humane Society.

"I had a dog, but I didn't realize how much of animal person I was until I had the opportunity to do a co-op here," she said during a recent interview at the Chippawa Parkway animal shelter.
Meisner started out cleaning cages and as her interest grew, she became a team leader and mentor to other co-op students.

"I learned a lot of stuff while I was working here that made me more confident in my abilities," she said.
That confidence earned her an end of term mark in the high 80s.

This month, Meisner will graduate with her classmates, an accomplishment her mother was worried might not happen.

"I'm so proud of her," Eleonor Meisner said. "She has overcome so much."

Her time at the shelter — she's still involved with the humane society and can often be found at the cat adoption centre at Niagara Square — inspired her to take her love of animals to the next level.

This fall, she will be attending the veterinary technician program at Sheridan College.

"If not for this co-op program, I wouldn't be going to college this fall. I would have probably continued to neglect my schoolwork," she said.

Miani said Meisner's success is an example of what can happen when parents, educators, employers and students work together.

Cathy Fugler, manager of community relations at the humane society, agrees.

"Everyone benefitted," she said. "The animals benefitted and Holly benefitted. It was a win in every way."

Fugler said Meisner is an inspiration to everyone at the shelter.

"She has a gift," she said.

"She has a gift of knowing how to work with animals and people and she is the most remarkable student we've ever had.

"In her college life, she's going to be so successful and she's going to be a remarkable vet tech."

The student success strategy program is offered at each high school within Niagara Catholic District School Board.

Co-op placements are arranged at various industries including hotel and tourism and horticulture. The programs are tailored to students individual strengths, goals and interests.

A report commissioned by the Canadian Council on Learning earlier this year stressed the importance of decreasing drop out rates.

A high school dropout enjoys fewer years at a reasonable quality of life because there are strong associations between education and health.

Also, according to the report, a high school dropout can expect an income loss of more than $3,000 per year, compared to individuals with a high school diploma. LANGLEY/QMI Agency