Students mentoring students.
That’s what the Human Service Career Program is all about. The program is a collaboration between Chilliwack Senior Secondary, UFV, the Ministry of Children and Families and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Fraser Valley, and it recently got a big boost of support.
The provincial Ministry of Finance has granted $50,000 to the operation of the program. Earlier this month, Minister of Finance Michael de John presented the grant to Maureen Berlin, executive director at BBBS.
Through the free, three-year program, high school students and UFV students mutually develop experiential learning by being paired as mentors and mentees.
The first edition of the HSCP began in Chilliwack last fall, where 33 students in Grade 10 were matched with 18 third- or fourth-year UFV mentors from a variety of programs including criminology, social work, and health sciences.
The foundation of the program are the Saturday training sessions, where mentor pairs cover a variety of topics related to human services.
“Rather than solely focusing on IQ, this program helps to develop emotional intelligence,” mentoring coordinator Collette Bohach explained. That “EQ” is built-up by engaging with subjects like peer counselling, mindfulness, human rights, aboriginal history, non-violent communication and collaborative problem solving.
“They’re subjects that will apply to any profession where you work with people,” Bohach added. Participating students begin the training programs in Grade 10, which build upon one another as participants progress over the following two years.
In addition to the training sessions, high school students will be able to sit-in on one of their mentor’s university classes while in Grade 10, develop work experience in an elementary school classroom in Grade 11, and gain invaluable experience through a local non-profit agency placement in Grade 12.
“The program caters to students who’s strengths aren’t always easy to measure,” Berlin explained. Youth may show potential through traits like leadership and listening skills, but could be at risk of falling through the cracks when it comes to mainstream academic subjects.
“It’s about helping them find their path, what they’re passionate about,” Bohach pointed out. “And it builds the foundation of people skills, which will set them apart.”
Bohach highlighted the powerful nature of the program which connects elementary, middle, secondary and post-secondary students, which will ultimately enhance the engagement of all participating students with their education, and it has the potential to increase graduation rates.
Familiarizing high school students with the university class setting helps to alleviate inhibitions and show them that it is within their reach. Participating students are not limited to a specific university program afterward, but staff say they’re often the ones who are interested in the “helping professions” such as social work or teaching.
“With this program, we’re wrapping our arms around the community at multiple levels,” Bohach said.
All of the pilot Grade 10 participants have elected to stay in the program as they enter Grade 11, and there are already 26 applicants for the next Grade 10 cohort.
The provincial funding will support the time and work that goes into the coordination of the program, including the recruitment, screening, training and supervision of youth and mentors.