Inside a slightly renovated Pauquachin community hall, 20 students will build bathrooms this spring. Along the way they will get hands-on experience in seven different trades, from framing to painting in the Trade Awareness, Skills and Knowledge program.
“The program was designed to attract vulnerable learners,” said Wendy Walker.
The career program teacher with the South Island Distance Education School and Stu Rhodes, who is a career counsellor at Stelly’s secondary school, are the architects of the new program aimed to get those students who “benefit from tangible learning” closer to graduation.
For nearly a year they’ve worked on the concept that originally targeted those aged 16 to 25 who for various reasons didn’t succeed in a classroom setting. They wound up with a diverse group aged from 15 to 51, a high contingent of First Nations students and a couple of women.
“Some are green as grass,” said Rhodes. “Another worked for 16 years [in the trades] but never did technical training.”
The Saanich school district, Camosun College and Pauquachin First Nation, where classes will be held four days a week, are teaming up to deliver the five-month TASK program that includes a one-month practicum in June.
“We hope to show them a positive learning experience in the school system,” Rhodes said. At the same time they get credits toward graduation and exposure to a possible career choice.
The thought of gaining school credits inspired 19-year-old Dominic Charles.
“I thought this is a good opportunity to get experience and get a better job. Graduation was looking not good,” he said. “I thought of dropping out, but I just kept trying.”
The hands-on situation is ideal for Charles, who described himself as an A student who simply didn’t hand in work.
“I really have faith I’ll be able to get through this,” he said. “I learn fast and I work hard when I learn it.”
Four days a week will be spent at Pauquachin in something similar to a classroom setting, but with a high hands-on component. Students finish the week with job placement on Fridays.
“Community-based employers are one of the key partnerships,” Rhodes said. Businesses will take students for a June apprenticeship, with the hope that students will be employable by the end of that month.
While it’s not solely an aboriginal based program, it is culturally sensitive. They’ve incorporated a circle time that will include the wisdom of elders, as well as having a trades experienced First Nations assistant in a support role.
Mark Henry, 37, sees the multi-generational and multi-racial makeup of the class as another benefit of the program.
“All my life my father said we need to educate our non-native friends. I think it’s positive,” he said. “I hope we all do help each other. We all have different personalities. … It’s a great opportunity for everyone.”
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Part of the development of the program included helping the prospective students overcome obstacles such as childcare, transportation and getting the appropriate equipment.