Last year, Josh Desir didn’t think he would graduate from high school.
Today, the 20-year-old is enrolled in the Academic and Career Entrance (ACE) program at Centennial College‘s Ashtonbee Campus. ACE is a tuition-free academic-upgrading program that assists students in securing credits so they can pursue post-secondary studies.
“If I do well this semester,” Desir said, “then next semester I will start on my actual program: firefighting.”
Centennial College has a six-week summer program, Helping Youth Pursue Education (HYPE) that helps teenagers to develop their skill set and introduces them to a number of college courses. Students are encouraged to try ACE if they respond well to this outreach.
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Like Centennial, the University of Toronto also runs an outreach program that aims to help and encourage students in middle and secondary schools in Scarborough get to higher education after high school.
The University of Toronto Scarborough Campus’s (UTSC) IMANI academic mentorship program targets students in three middle and three high schools.
The program, which runs during the school year, offers mentoring, tutoring and exposure to a post-secondary environment for 70 students, including 39 middle schoolers, twice a week, said UTSC community programs coordinator Esther Broomfield. The students learn what their educational options are and how to pursue their academic goals, she said.
“The children are mildly disengaged and discouraged,” Broomfield said. “One of the perks to being involved in the program is that they get access to special events and opportunities.”
The students were part of the audience at the resent presentation by Neil Pasricha, author of the New York Times bestseller The Book of Awesome.
Many students don’t realize there’s life after high school, said Enrico Delrosso, a guidance counsellor at David and Mary Thomson Collegiate Institute.
“They give up hope and that leads to despair,” he said.
Desir was one of those students, Delrosso said.
“He was a guy that was clearly not going to graduate from high school,” he said.
“I felt like I was struggling,” Desir said. “I just wanted to quit.”
Our mantra is we try to transform lives and transform communities.
— Claude Nembhard
Encouraged by Delrosso, Desir attended and improved in the First Generation Student after-school program at David and Mary Thomson. The program runs in four high schools with the help of student mentors and under the supervision of Centennial’s community coordinator Claude Nembhard.
Small groups of no more than 15 students help the program “engage the kids that are going the ‘wrong way’ [and] get them back interested in being at school,” Nembhard said.
“Our mantra is we try to transform lives and transform communities,” he said.
Desir attended the HYPE program in the summer after graduation. He liked the hands-on training and decided to try college.
“If I didn’t know about the programs, I wouldn’t be here,” Desir said. “I know that for a fact.”
“He’s finding his way,” Delrosso said. “Five years from now, he’ll be protecting us from a fire.”