A program that provides students an alternative path to graduation captured the community Thursday night, when nearly 30 students held their heads high at the Trail Middle School.
Under the Kootenay Columbia Learning Centre, the Cooperative Education Centre offers a family-like environment for students that have found the program because they left high school and decided to come back or felt that a traditional campus wasn’t working for them.
Over 100 people watched in the crowd as the 28 grads were congratulated for their success, some which benefited from the over $8,000 in scholarships from community organizations.
“It’s your support over the years that’s made a huge difference for us being here,” said Krystal McKimmie, who shared the title of valedictorian with Ashley Escott, a teen who’s known in the community for his push for a skateboard park in Trail.
“I’m thankful that people took interest in me,” said Escott, adding that he’s learned that being a part of something he believes in gives him the power to encourage change.
Life doesn’t end here was the message from retired alternate teacher Garry Bock. He pressed that there are many ways to build achievement by noting successful individuals like Bill Comrie, who with a high school education went into the furniture business and created what is now The Brick Warehouse Corporation, the largest retailer of furniture in Canada.
With a nurturing atmosphere, the centre takes on students young and old with different learning capabilities.
Though still providing a structured learning environment like J. L. Crowe or Rossland Secondary, the co-op program accepts that it may take longer for students to complete their studies.
The idea is that those who have more experience in life, stand up as leaders in the group and help their classmates achieve their goals, explained Derek Zimmer, district coordinator for alternative education and one of the two teachers who work at the centre.
“Our education system caters toward academic, not toward learning and that’s been a problem in the North American system for eons,” said Zimmer Friday from his office in Trail.
“But if we start talking about real skills and different forms of intelligence, that’s what we want to promote.”
Beyond academics, the centre focuses on vocational skills – running a shop and pottery program on site and a student-employed café in Castlegar.
“There’s a lot of wounded people, there’s a lot of people that have been marked in society and they think they’re never getting out of it,” said Zimmer.
“Part of having an alternate site outside of regular campus, is that they can start to form their identity and start to have a belief that yes, ‘Even though I’ve been handed a tough deck, the struggle is going to make me a stronger person.’”