FHASS Dual Credit Program Makes a Difference!

We all know that through our general education and breadth electives our Faculty touches the lives and minds of every undergraduate student here at Sheridan. But did you know that since 2005, we have also been making a real difference in the lives of at-risk, disengaged and under-achieving high school students? Many of these young people have encountered significant obstacles to finishing high school, including family problems, teen pregnancies and homelessness. Others have simply lost their way and have found it again through a remarkable program that our Faculty has been running for almost nine years. Originating with our first cohort at the Davis Campus, and now being offered since last year at HMC, the Transition to College Dual Credit Program is delivered in partnership with the Archbishop Romero Catholic Secondary School through funding provided by the provincial School College Work Initiative (SCWI).

 Here’s how it works: dual credits are college courses that also earn high school students secondary school credits, helping them to complete their high school diploma while experiencing college learning and life. Students can apply for advanced standing in these college courses when they enroll in a college program. The idea is to get these students excited about learning again by engaging them through the interactive approaches we use. All of Sheridan’s dual credit courses are taught by college faculty on campus, so students also get a taste of what it’s like to be a real college student. Once they see themselves succeeding in the post-secondary world, they are more likely to be motivated to stay in school and apply to college. While most dual credit programs offer only a small number of college courses on-campus, School-within-a-College or ‘SWAC’ programs like the one we offer also make it possible for students to be on-campus full-time. While they are here, they take college courses from us (in this case, general education electives), and work on high school credit courses with help from secondary school teachers the rest of the time.

 So far, we’ve had about 40-50 students go through this program every year. Success rates are high – over 80% on average, and while we are still working on automating our data tracking, ad hoc surveys have suggested that about 20-25% of program participants find their way into college programs.

 But the best way to understand the positive impact of this program is through students’ stories, like Keisha’s, a recent Archbishop Romero Graduate and participant in our SWAC program, who has gone on to enroll in Sheridan’s Medical Administration Program where she is earning grades in the 80’s and 90’s.

 Perspectives offered by faculty teaching these students sum things up nicely. Sipa Chansavang comments that while these students do experience challenges in meeting college-level expectations, the exceptional support of their secondary school teachers helps keep students on task, and observes that “by having the students exposed to college level courses it will empower them to further their academic pursuit and career choices.” Jonah Santa-Barbara remarks that “teaching any demographic has its challenges and rewards; doing so with students who are both academically at-risk and in their final year of high school potentially magnifies such issues. Thus, the opportunity to motivate and inspire a vulnerable student population presents itself. How can we do this? By far the most important aspect centres around building-up their confidence and self-efficacy, meaning I take my Emotional Intelligence toolkit to each and every class and focus on two simple concepts: how can I improve my own interpersonal skills, empathy, and listening skills, and use this self-understanding to improve the academic and personal life of a young student who likely did not have the same advantages as myself while growing up?

 While it’s obvious this focal-area/teaching task is a lifelong one, the payoffs can often be immediate; having students approach me privately after a class and convey that the lesson material focused on areas of human behaviour that they ‘always wondered about, or were somehow drawn towards, but just didn’t know what it all meant or how to place it’ in their own lives, etc., is both rewarding and inspiring. It is my hope that I can continue to develop this self/other understanding in our SWAC students and foster their curiosity and confidence.”

 Our Faculty can be proud of the role we are playing in stimulating the minds and firing the spark of learning in all of our students – and knowing that our reach touches students who may need our help just to open the doors to post-secondary education and that we are inspiring these students to change their lives adds something special to our satisfaction in the work that we do.

Perhaps it is best summed up in the personal stories of our students themselves:

Keisha’s Story

Before I started the Dual Credit program, I was not focused on school.  I let my personal issues distract me.   I knew I needed to do something to turn my life around. I had a goal and I knew I needed to go in a different direction to achieve it.  When my teachers told me about the dual credit program – School Within a College (SWAC) – at Sheridan’s Hazel McCallion Campus near Square One, I knew immediately that this was the program to get me back on the right track to achieving my goals.Keisha Hewitt

 I started at the S.W.A.C. dual credit program in September 2011. So many things about the program worked for me.  Being on campus full time motivated me to succeed. I was surrounded by likeminded students who were there to achieve their goals. The flexible schedule prevented my personal issues from getting in the way of my academic success.  Having the same 2 teachers all day, every day, was key to my success. The teachers gave me an incredible amount of individual time and support.  My academic success in my college classes let me know I WAS college material.

 After being at Sheridan for the fall semester, I knew that this was the college for me.  I graduated from Archbishop Romero Secondary in January of 2012 and, before my semester was over, had applied to Sheridan’s Medical Administration Program. I am now attending Sheridan College and I am getting 80’s and 90’s in all my courses.   I am proud of the path I am on.  I owe my success to the dual credit SWAC program and my teachers. It made the difference to my being in college and succeeding.  I am doing what I dreamed of doing all my life and I am doing it well!

–article written by Jane Jenner