August 8, 2020


By KAREN HAYNES

It is that time of year again. Future college students are attending college fairs and filling out college application forms.

Generally, every student appears the same. Each one is giddy with the anticipation of moving out of mom and dad’s, attending the infamous college parties and hopefully meeting someone special.

The future seems bright and full of opportunities.

However, every student travels a unique path leading to the start of their college career.

For many, the journey starts before they walk through the doors of Conestoga College as a registered full- or part-time student.

Conestoga College’s Stratford campus offers students who have not graduated from high school, are older than 18 and have been out of school for a minimum of one year an academic future, free of charge.

Literacy and basic skills (LBS) programs, which include the GED certificate and academic upgrading, have been funded by the Ontario government and are free to those attending, said Mary-Anne Sullivan, preparatory programs co-ordinator at Conestoga’s Stratford campus.

“A lot of people stay away or don’t come because they don’t understand it. You don’t have to pay, it’s free,” Sullivan said.

For many, the opportunity to earn a General Education Development (GED) certificate, which is equivalent to a high school diploma, and complete academic upgrading as college preparation is the light at the start of the tunnel.

Many students have been out of the classroom environment for a long time and feel apprehensive at the beginning, she said.

“There’s a bit of trepidation at first because of what they’re taking on.”

“They have to get their GED to get a job and there are many hurdles an adult learner must overcome.”

The majority of students completing their GED certificate are males between 25 and 44, according to the 2009-2010 literacy service plan report released by Employment Ontario.

Sullivan said while some struggle to balance their academic studies, family life and other responsibilities she works to help students reach their goal.

The teachers work closely with each student to develop a plan that meets their individual needs, she said.

“We help them stick to it and maintain it.”

The adult learning environment is much different than what many prospective students might envision, said 23-year-old Jaclyn Poulsen, an academic upgrading student at Conestoga’s Stratford campus.

Since students have an individualized academic plan and differing personal schedules the classroom sizes vary each day, she said.

Teachers do not lecture from a whiteboard, instead students work and learn independently, she added.

Poulsen earned her GED certificate at the college’s Stratford campus after leaving high school around age 16.

Using drugs and spending six years in a destructive relationship kept her from putting herself, her family and her commitments first, she said.

“If I hadn’t started coming here I would probably still be using drugs every day, not waking up for important things … I probably would if I hadn’t seen the light.”

With her GED certificate in her academic tool belt, Poulsen looks to her future.

“I would love to have a job where I love going to work every day. And with school I’m working towards my goal.”

Accepted to Conestoga’s general health option, beginning in January 2012, Poulsen is completing academic upgrading in Stratford to better prepare herself for future college courses, she said.

“It’s a gateway program to help me get my foot in the door.”

With Conestoga’s nursing program as her ultimate goal, she said she will be the first of her family to attend college. “I’d love to be a nurse who works with kids.”

Conestoga’s Stratford campus offers continuous intake for the GED and academic upgrading programs.

For more information visit www.conestogac.on.ca/caa/preps/upgrading.jsp or call 519-271-5700, ext. 7227.

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