School credit program celebrates success Story

March 12, 2010
"For the first time in my life, I actually like school. Without this program I would never have gone back to high school."

Phillip Story hated high school.

Bored with his classes, he fell increasingly behind. Frustrated and discouraged, a lot of the time he just stayed home.

But when Story found himself in Grade 12, nine credits short of getting his diploma, he knew he had to make some choices.

"Everybody was graduating and I figured, 'I've got to get out.'"
His escape plan included summer school, night classes and a semester of the School within a College (SWAC) program.

Now in its fifth year, the program gives students an opportunity to earn college and high school credits at the same time and move on to jobs, apprenticeships and a post-secondary education.

At a School within a College celebration, Story walked away with an award of merit, as not only a high school graduate, but also the holder of four community college credits.

And, after a pizza and pop lunch, Story planned to apply to the music programs and Mohawk and Humber colleges.

"We're very, very proud of him," said brother Michael Story. "We've been praying that he'd just stick in there and fight it out."

A joint program of the Grand Erie and Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic district school boards and Mohawk College, School within a College offers programs in trades and in business.

In the trades program, students divide their time between the classroom and the shops, where they have a chance to sample courses related to manufacturing and construction. There is also an option to go on to a co-op placement or apprenticeship.
Those in business SWAC have gone on to college programs including police foundations,marketing, graphics and health sciences, said instructor Marianne Helgers.

"The students who are part of the program have either outgrown or never fit into the regular high school system," she said. "Without the program, I don't think they would graduate."

SWAC teacher Ed House said most students are aged 18 to 20, who have at least 22 high school credits. Some, he said, feel they're too old or too mature for high school and are drawn to skilled trades and the shop programs offered through School within a College.

Holly Brown had earned all her required credits up to Grade 11 at North Park Collegiate when she decided to switch to the SWAC program in Grade 12. She and fellow student, Katlin Thibideau, have plans to one day start their own contracting

business. In addition to earning credits through School within a College, they both picked up forklift operator licences.

Seventeen-year-old Thibideau said she sporadically attended two high schools and the Grand Erie Learning Alternatives program before finding her niche in SWAC.

"I was skipping," she says of her high school classes. "I just stopped going. Now I feel like I'm being treated like an adult. They give you a chance here."

After dropping out in Grade 12 and working for almost a year, Hilary Steer earned the five credits she needed to graduate high school through School within a College. She's now a full-time student in the police foundations program at Mohawk.

"For the first time in my life, I actually like school. Without this program I would never have gone back to high school."

Dennis Perras, a teacher with the trades program, said many SWAC graduates are hired on following their job placements, as electricians, carpenters, machine shop operators, window installers, draftspersons and mechanics.

"The program really helps kids turn themselves around," said Perras.

House said he is unsure how the School within a College program will be affected by Mohawk's plan to move its apprenticeship programs for would-be millwrights, tool and die makers and graphic designers to the Hamilton and Stoney Creek campuses. He said the program will not change for the semesters beginning in February, September and January 2011.

"Beyond that we're not sure what's happening."