Alternate education gives Chilliwack student tools to succeed

Chilliwack's Education Centre brought opportunity to graduate, win scholarships, and attend UFV

Chilliwack Education Centre graduate

Chilliwack Education Centre graduate

Life may have tried to knock down Shawna Ferguson, but she’s ‘standing tall’ these days.

The 19-year-old Education Centre graduate has earned herself a scholarship by moving past previous trouble achieving in class, with a Coast Capital Standing Tall Award.

“It’s for students who have been through pretty rough times, adversity, and managed to get through it,” she says.

“I always struggled with bullying, I had a lot of anxiety and depression,” she explains. “Things with family weren’t that great, and then my mom went blind. I ended up dropping out of school a number of times.”

When she decided to go back, after taking eight months off to help take care of her mom, the first door she knocked on was at Chilliwack secondary. She explained her history, and what had set her back. They encouraged her to give the ‘Ed Centre’ a try, and from the moment Ferguson arrived she knew it was the right choice.

Still, troubles arose and she was just about ready to leave that school, too.

“At one point I was going to drop out of the Ed Centre,” she says. “But the principal told me about the construction course, and it turned out it was a good fit.”

The Trades Discovery class is a unique learning experience, led by teacher Ryan Pastorchik. It’s run in partnership with the UFV Trades and Technology Centre, and it’s run very much like a work site. The hands-on approach appealed to Ferguson, who thrived in her new educational setting.

“I’ve never been one to sit in a desk and write on paper all day,” she says. “I always enjoyed working with my hands.”

She says if it weren’t for Chuck Lawson, principal at the Education Centre, bringing the program to the school, she probably wouldn’t have graduated.

“Shawna is a very bright and capable student who was disconnected from her school,” Lawson says, adding that she “instantly connected with this opportunity and quickly became a leader in the class.”

They took on a large project at the centre, building a 12 x 25 foot outbuilding. After that was finished, Ferguson and 14 of her classmates moved into a 10-week Trades Discovery class at UFV.

They were given the chance to try out a multitude of in-demand, hands-on career options. For Ferguson, carpentry really stood out. And the Education Centre’s students’ success has led to a continuation and expansion of the program.

“The success of Shawna and her peers resulted in UFV offering 30 seats this year for two ten-week sessions in the Trades Discovery class,” Lawson says. “It is a really amazing program.”

Her success also grabbed the attention of scholarship providers. She earned a handful, including the $2,500 Standing Tall award.

It will come in handy when she registers at UFV in an upcoming semester. For now, she’s planning her future, and figuring out how to make it all work financially.

“I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without Chuck Lawson and Ryan Pastorchik,” she says of her principal and teacher.

But it’s also her persistence that has kept her moving forward.

“I dropped out the first time when I was in Grade 7, then I tried to go back in Grade 8,” she says. “That didn’t work out. I only stayed for a few months.”

Making the decision to go back after all those dropped attempts has been a life changer, she says.

And that’s the case for many students who complete high school at alternate schools. Chilliwack school district offers a selection of programs for students who don’t see themselves fitting into a traditional classroom. They include CHANCE Shxwetetilthet, Continuing Education, Fraser Valley Distance Education and the Education Centre.

Ferguson managed to stay there for three years. The Education Centre programs are for secondary school students who want a flexible learning environment rich with supports both inside and outside of the classroom. The added supports are beyond what is normally offered in a mainstream school.

“If I had turned down Chuck’s offer, I wouldn’t have graduated,” she says. “I’d probably be still kinda lost and confused.”