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DRCSS offering another option


Dauphin Regional Comprehensive Secondary School (DRCSS) is offering a unique program to provide a positive school experience for students, by recognizing the needs of the local high school’s population.
DRCSS vice-principal Melanie Gamache explained the Employment Readiness (ER) program was created out of the understanding the Grades 9 to 12 school offers a variety of different programs for students based on their needs, such as the regular track, which are traditional classrooms, as well as enriched learning with accreditation and partnerships with Assiniboine Community College for dual credits and the Advanced Placement program.
DRCSS also offers extended learning for students who need extra time to earn a particular credit, she noted, and has the Community Transitions program that works on individualized goals for students who are going to be transitioning into the community for as much independent living as possible.
“But we recognize that there’s still students who are facing barriers to accessing any one of those programs. So we needed to create something, an alternative form of education that was still based in curriculum and was a flexible setting. Where students could work on building skills for employment, for communication, for becoming a member of our local community in a positive way,” Gamache said.
The ER program has two teachers and an educational assistant delivering Manitoba curriculum-based courses, she explained, but the focus is on numeracy and literacy, where students can still earn high school credits at their pace.
“So we’re not following a semester, like a traditional classroom might,” Gamache said, adding there are opportunities for different kinds of certification, such as a safe food handler certificate, fire safety and fire extinguisher training at the local fire hall.
The program will also use the news, current events or a driver’s manual as text, she added, to meet Manitoba curriculum requirements.
DRCSS recognizes part of the reason students are in the program, Gamache said, is they are facing barriers that are keeping them out of a traditional classroom.
“So that might be anxiety or some other mental health issue. It might be past negative experiences with school. But for our students, they are facing some kind of barrier to accessing a mainstream education or a traditional type of education,” she explained.
“And so we’re looking at just general communication skills and how do we eliminate anxiety so that these students can feel like they do have a place in our community and that they do have a future ahead of them. And what are the skills that they need to get over whatever that block is that’s currently in the way.”
One of the laws of Manitoba, Gamache noted, is students must stay engaged in education until they are 18. For many students, she said, that is not an issue.
“But because we have students with different needs, what that education looks like, needs to be as diversified as the population that we’re servicing,” Gamache added.
“Sometimes we have to be pretty creative about what the programming looks like, to be able to meet students where they’re at, to meet the needs of students and help them grow, help them make progress and meet their own goals of what they want out of their education.”
The ER program began in September and is part time, she said, to allow flexibility to students, as some want to be employed, others are engaged in regular or vocational programming in the morning.
“And some students are just on a different path altogether and they’re coming only for afternoons. It really is customized to meet the students and their goals,” she added.
DRCSS is considering broadening beyond the classroom to the school store in the new year, Gamache said, as there are practical applications, such as communication, working in the service industry, working with money and cash registers and serving the public.
Some students have expressed an interest in developing more vocational skills, as well, she noted. DRCSS has also included a cultural component, utilizing elders from the surrounding communities.
The hope is to build the program to full time, Gamache said.
“We want to keep our numbers manageable, obviously, because there is so much customization. But also to be able to meet students where they’re at,” she said, noting the program has 22 students who were either referred by staff, by themselves, or if they were not attending school.
“In some places, the Employment Readiness program is the best fit and in some cases, it’s not. And then we need to look at other creative programming.”
So far, Gamache noted, DRCSS has seen some success, just looking at attendance, as some have not had great attendance, or no attendance last year and are now attending almost at 100 per cent.
“I think we have one student who has had perfect attendance since starting in the Employment Readiness program, because it’s meeting the student’s needs,” she said.
“It’s a way of meeting some of those core skills, like those academic skills, the math and the English, which, how we traditionally deliver are not always the best fit for every student.”
“We just really want the best for our students and want them to feel connected to education in some way and feel that they’re valued and that they have value,” she said.
“And I think that that’s really what has sparked our our teaching staff here, to look at the way that we’re programming for students. Because if our mandate is that we need to provide appropriate programming for every student and if we know we’re not, then we need to make a change to make sure that we are. And that’s really at the heart of everything that we’re trying to do here.”

M. A. Nyquist