Like Tolstoy’s happy families, thriving high schools tend to be alike, at least in one crucial element—they are populated by students who want to be there. When a student body is less than motivated, when the majority sees more misery than joy in education, a school’s challenges rise exponentially. At Cochrane High School in Regina, which “focuses on students with limited success elsewhere,” says principal Greg Enion, “our kids—labelled, tested and pushed aside—haven’t exactly had a lot of positive experience in school before.” What’s more, 40 per cent of the school’s 600 students are First Nations, a population whose 40-percent dropout rate (about twice the already alarmingly high overall rate) bedevils educators across the country. Yet Cochrane is flourishing, thanks to dedicated staff and a student-derived approach to keeping kids motivated.
The school’s special programs—many of them, Enion says, inspired by student suggestions—include several that ease the reentry of students with attendance or angermanagement problems. There’s also Kids First Day Care. Being able to take her twoyear-old son, Teegan, with her, says 19-yearold Native student Laurie Hotomanie, is all that allows her to go to school. But Kids
First also offers parenting instruction and academic support. Chris White, 17, cites Cochrane’s twoto seven-week work placements as the key to his happiness. “It’s really made a difference; it got me a part-time and summer job as a baker. We also take Career Ed., about rights and responsibilities in the workplace, and Native Studies—so I know where they’re coming from.”
Chris is one of the many students who swell the school’s numbers in Grade 10,
after they find themselves flailing elsewhere in the system in Grade 9. Cochrane still loses a lot of kids after Grade 10, when they’re old enough to legally drop out, but its innovative efforts do stem the tide. “A large number of our kids wouldn’t be in school at all were it not for Cochrane,” says social science teacher Juanita Tuharsky. “And when we do tap into their potential, you can see a child—a young adult—change before your eyes, and you go‘Wow.’”
ENVIRONMENTALIST, AUTHOR, BROADCASTER DAVID SUZUKI, 68 LOUISE WYATT, ENGLISH,
LONDON CENTRAL COLLEGIATE INSTITUTE ‘She was a towering figure in my life. Academically, high school was a cakewalk for me, but Louise, man oh man, she made me work my ass off. She saw something in me that was worth demanding, I guess. Back then the entire province wrote Grade 13 exams at the same time. I came out of the English composition exam and there was Louise... waiting. She said, “What essay subject did you choose?” I had taken “A Day at the Fair,” and
I knew it was lazy because you can throw in a lot of adjectives and fancy verbs. She just wrinkled her nose at me in total disgust.’
AUTHOR ANTONINE MAILLET, 75
MÈRE JEANNE DE VALOIS, FRENCH AND LATIN, L’ACADÉMIE NOTRE DAME DE SACRÉ COEUR, MEMRAMCOOK, N.B., AND FOUNDER OF COLLÈGE NOTRE-DAME D’ACADIE, MONCTON, N.B. ‘Everything that she did was opposite to the typical nun style. She laughed loud. She walked fast. She was so important to me that I wrote a book about her, Les Confessions de Jeanne de Valois. To establish a college for girls in Acadia in the ’40s-that was unheard of. She said, “If Acadians are going to survive, we need education, and education for women.” She could discover in every girl the spark that would get them somewhere. She told me in modest words that I had to keep writing. I knew because of her that I must try a career in writing.’
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