Back for the Future
Last Thursday, during Hooked on School Days, Quebec’s special week that focuses on school perseverance, I spoke with three students at New Horizons, the Eastern Townships
School Board’s Adult Education Centre in Sherbrooke. All three students had returned to school to get their high school diploma.
Catherine Wood, who is in her midtwenties, “regrets 100%” not finishing high school the first time. Although she had enjoyed school and had good marks, Catherine’s experience of living in foster homes and abusing drugs contributed to her quitting high school in her teenage years. Brigitte Barbe-Letourneau, who is nineteen years old, also spoke of foster homes, drug abuse, and the need to find a job as reasons why she left school. Emanuel Belanger, whose parents were volunteer missionaries, got as far as 10th grade through correspondence school. “Then I decided to quit so I could travel. The experience was good, I did volunteer work, but without proof of an education, it was hard. People want to see that,” explained Emanuel.
When asked what motivated her to return to school, Catherine answered candidly: “After five years on drugs, I had lost my responsibilities, respect and a lot of confidence. I was tired of that lifestyle. Only you can help yourself and you really have to want it. Now I’m doing the best I can to get back on track.”
Although she has been living on her own since she was sixteen, Brigitte always wanted to finish high school and tried returning to school a few times. “There was always something that hindered me when I tried to go back to school. But this time, after I got pregnant, I put my foot down. I’ve been in school now for a year!” said the young mother of a sixmonth old baby.
Emanuel decided to return to school when he realized that his “relaxed lifestyle” couldn’t last forever. “I looked into the future and knew that without papers, I would have no future. If I really wanted to help people, I would need more education.”
Returning to school is not without its challenges. “Just coming back was hard; it was embarrassing. There’s also a lack of confidence. I was scared; I wasn’t used to having friends, being social and fitting in,” commented Catherine. “But it was easier than I thought,” she said with a smile. “Yeah, now she talks to everyone!” added Brigitte. “Sometimes money is tight but I’m trying to learn how to budget. I can get overwhelmed by all the work sometimes, but the teachers are really good at supporting us. And there is never enough time. I can’t do homework at home in the evening because I spend that time with my baby,” said Brigitte. “Yes. We’re juggling a lot more in our lives, as adults,” agreed Emanuel.
“Readjusting to homework is hard. As an adult you think, do I really have to do that? And going back to do things I’ve already done, like the math, because the methods have changed,” Emanuel commented.
But, challenges and all, these students are happy to be back in school. “I like the people here, the students and the teachers, the whole environment. There’s nothing fun about the work, but I like how the teachers really want to help. I look forward to going to school,” said Catherine. “I’ve found good friends here and we motivate each other,” added Brigitte. “I like the social aspects, it’s not just about the education, and it’s a healthy learning environment. The teachers are patient and they do more than just give lessons: they teach! The teachers encourage us to come to our own conclusions; you learn more that way,” said Emanuel.
Returning to school, whether the decision is made easily or with great difficulty, is almost always a life-changing experience. “I’ve calmed down and I’m more stable now. I look at reality and I’m more of a positive person now. I feel stronger, more in control, and I know I can do what I want if I push myself. I have goals now,” commented Catherine. “It’s easier to deal with problems now. I can get back up on my feet and I take it one day at a time. I feel stronger,” said Brigitte. “I am more confident now. Going back to school is helping me shape my life for the better. It brings out the best in you and you see what you’re made of. I now have hope for the future,” mentioned Emanuel. “Yeah, hope,” agreed Brigitte.
All three students are planning to continue their education once they get their diplomas. Catherine may study the hotel business at Cegep or study to be a Nursing Assistant. Brigitte is looking into Business Administration and Accounting and investigating other careers with the school’s Career Counsellor, Danielle Robert. “You can ask Danielle Robert anything – she has all the answers!” said Brigitte. “They give you all the information you need, like about bursaries and loans, at the school. They really facilitate things here,” said Emanuel who is expecting to begin the Nursing Assistant program at Lennoxville’s Vocational and Training Centre next month.
Three different students with three different sto-