December 7, 2012
Adopt-a-School: Wesbild offers scholarships to Coquitlam alternative high school #vansunkids
By Gerry Bellett
For principal Paul McNaughton, the hardest part of saying goodbye to students like 19-year-old Michelle Adams was contemplating how they would fare in the unforgiving world outside his Coquitlam alternative secondary school.
Nobody attends CABE if they are knocking it out of the park in life or academics. Alternative school is a euphemism for ‘last ditch’ and students attending here are carrying burdens that would overwhelm their progress to Grade 12 if left in a regular school environment.
In Adams’s case, she has had to complete Grade 12 while being a mom to 14-month-old Elliot.
And now she is graduating at Christmas.
Until Wednesday, McNaughton would ask himself: “Graduate to what?”
How could students be expected to use their education as a platform to a career when many leave with little or no money and no prospects of being able to pay for post-secondary education, apprenticeship programs or trades training?
“We’ve done a good job getting kids to graduation — four years ago we had just 10 students graduate, this year we’ve had 74 — but then what?
“For many of them finances are a barrier to post-secondary or what they can do to advance themselves,” said McNaughton.
During a small ceremony at the school on Foster Avenue two days ago that barrier was at least lowered.
Wesbild Holdings, a real estate development and investment company whose owners founded the Future Shop chain, committed to paying for the continuing education of grads like Michelle.
It was the answer to McNaughton’s prayer.
“For years it’s been a pipe dream of ours. How could we help students beyond graduation? My enthusiasm for what you are doing is off the charts,” McNaughton told Wesbild’s president Kevin Layden.
Layden was there to sign an agreement with the Coquitlam Foundation which will oversee the operation of Wesbild’s Lift Scholarship Program. The program could provide up to $50,000 a year in scholarships, with the first to be awarded in January.
They will be available to CABE grads for a period of 18 months after graduation, thus placing it within reach of students who left in 2010. Scholarships will also be available to students who spent substantial time in CABE but later returned to their local high school to graduate.
McNaughton explained the reason for the 18-month period.
“A lot of our students want to go work when they graduate. For many of them, graduation was never really in the cards and we push them so hard to graduate that when they do there’s a kind of release ‘I made it, now leave me alone’.
“So it takes a while for them to focus on what they want to do — that’s why we’ve extended the deadline to 18 months,” he said.
Layden told the gathering, which included Coquitlam school trustees and board chair Melissa Hyndes, that the company became involved as a result of last year’s Vancouver Sun Adopt-a-School campaign, which included coverage of CABE and its efforts to help its students, some of whom were living on social assistance with babies to care for. The story outlined McNaughton’s concerns about students not being able to access post-secondary courses.
“We’re really excited about this program,” said Layden. “One thing that’s great about Wesbild is we’re great in focusing on the needs of our community and we’re very active in the Tri-Cities area.”
That was two things, but it was no exaggeration.
For sitting quietly among the listeners was Nezhat Khosrowshahi who with husband, Hassan, is a principal of Wesbild. It was her initiative to support McNaughton’s scholarship plan.
Later, she said her concern was to help young people for whom life was a struggle.
“These young people need help to establish themselves and it will be wonderful to see them achieve something. There are times in life when everyone needs help,” she said.
Hyndes said the scholarships would give CABE students a boost in life.
“Some of the students in CABE are our most vulnerable and often don’t have the same ability to move ahead in their lives financially. This will give them an opportunity to succeed,” she said.
While all this was going on Adams was picking up her baby from CABE’s daycare, her day’s schooling over.
Two weeks and she will be gone.
What are her plans?
“I have a couple of options. I can go on welfare or find a job that allows me to pay for daycare. I’ll have to figure that out,” she said.
But that’s the short term.
By next September, she plans to be enrolled in Douglas College and training to be a special education assistant.
“I want to work with special needs kids,” she said.
She’s arranged to go to the campus to inquire about the two-year course and how much it will cost.
She could well be CABE’s first graduate applicant for a scholarship.
“If I could get some money toward the cost, that would be a big help.”