MAPLE RIDGE – The new TR Leger campus at North Dundas District High School officially opened its doors Wed., March 7 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house.
The grand opening marks a return of sorts to the area for the education centre after leaving Winchester more than five years ago for Williamsburg. According to TR Leger principal Sandy McInnes the new location is an ideal fit not only geographically, situated directly between Chesterville and Winchester, but also for student cross-enrollment.
“Being here now allows that opportunity for cross-enrollment either way from mainstream to TR or TR to mainstream. The benefit to that would be say a student is going through a bit of a rough patch and they just need a smaller venue with some additional support, TR Leger lends itself to that. Or if you have a student coming out of a rough patch and they’re wanting to do a transition, maybe one period a day, back into main stream this situation allows for that to happen,” said McInnes.
Previously at the Williamsburg location, even if students wanted to take advantage of the cross-enrollment option, few of them did. The simple fact of the matter is that transportation continues to be a major obstacle for adult learners, those seeking to complete their formal education or those simply looking for employment education courses. McInnes hopes the new location and their ability to provide transportation for those that need it will continue to break down barriers.
“You can have a school that is 20 minutes away from a community and it might as well be 100 kilometres away. The proximity is good [but] our programming provides transportation. If somebody doesn’t have transportation, our program is funded to provide it to those individuals,” he said
Despite the new location, the school still focuses on adult, alternative and continuing education with a unique focus on employment prep skills. For McInnes and his staff, properly assessing each individual and providing them with the confidence to move forward on personal pathway learning is critical to ensuring their program produces successful graduates and opens the willingness to continue a lifetime of learning.
“What we do right off the bat is we do an assessment on what their interests are. We have these ministry-developed employment prep courses, and they’re in multiple units. They have all different themes. Everything from custodial services, safe food handling, hospitality, you name it. There are probably about 80 courses out there,” said McInnes. “Our students that have graduated, after they’ve had success and they developed relationships here with folks, sometimes they come back and they want to forge that pathway to get their Ontario secondary school diploma [OSSD].”
As an educator coming from the mainstream system, McInnes has found he has learned much from the students and the program through his own experiences.
“When I first came into TR Leger my thinking was ‘Oh everyone is coming in to get their OSSD.’ What I learned was that wasn’t the right approach. People are coming in and they may have been disengaged in school in the past. What you need to do is bring them some hope and confidence that they can succeed. One of the great things that staff do here is they sit and have a coffee and conversation to find out what your interests and goals right now. And maybe the goal would be just to get a job,” he said.
Trust and confidence are key words that were also the focus of Upper Canada District School Board chair Jeff McMillan when he spoke. Not every student, no matter the age, takes the same road to reach their goals.
“In talking to the people here today I can see why the program is successful because they create trust among these people. It was that lack of trust that got them out of the main stream. It’s that trust that will bring them back in,” said McMillan. “For many of us we travel a very straight road. For some of our students that we work with here, that road isn’t quite as straight. To be able to have a program, the opportunity for these people to come back is very powerful. But it doesn’t happen without this staff.”
For McMillan, McInnes and the staff at TR Leger, they are emotionally invested in their student’s success.
“The hardest part for me are the graduations. To be on the stage with a group of young adults, and sometimes not such young adults, walking across the stage who have had the opportunity to overcome the obstacles that they’ve had to face in life is very emotional,” said McMillan.
No matter the age, social circumstance or current situation, McInnes is driven to provide people with the tools necessary to succeed and to become lifelong learners.
“TR can find a personalized pathway that works for your schedule, that works for your comfort level… we want to develop learners that are reflective thinkers that can make informed decisions. Giving them the confidence and hope that they have other opportunities to pursue because the learning never ends. I’m reminded of that when a few years ago in the Almonte area I had an 89 year old graduate. A gentlemen out of the Prescott area last year was 76, graduating getting his OSSD so that’s a reminder for me that the learning never stops.”