Getting youth HYPEd about school
For most of her life, Marie Joseph never imagined she’d one day earn a post-secondary diploma or degree. That all changed in just six weeks thanks to a free program for youth living in Toronto’s underserved neighbourhoods that reduces barriers to education.
“When I was younger, I never thought college or university was for me because I’m a student with disabilities and school was really hard,” says Joseph. She completed high school in the U.S. and came to Canada in 2008 as a Haitian refugee. “Communicating with teachers was never easy.”
A tuition-free program offered each summer by Centennial College changed that. HYPE – Helping Youth Pursue Education – offers students ages 17 to 29 years to take career-oriented courses in business fundamentals, human development, automotive technology, esthetics, trades/computers/technology, digital media or culinary arts.
Joseph was among the onethird of HYPE graduates who go on to pursue full-time studies at college. After studying graphic arts at Centennial, she landed a job in the college’s marketing and communication department. “It was a different path to college and my life changed from there,” she says.
“The program is designed to reduce as many barriers as possible to an on-campus post-secondary learning experience,” says Anthony Bertin, manager of Centennial’s Community Outreach Office. In addition to being tuition free, it provides students with tokens for transportation, breakfast, lunch and required learning materials, such as safety boots and goggles for automotive technology students.
“Many of our students don’t have a high school diploma or if they do, they wouldn’t be eligible for post-secondary education because their grades wouldn’t promote it,” he says. “Many had experiences in elementary and secondary school that left them believing they weren’t capable learners or that school is a horrible place to be and they’d rather not be there.”
The program also offers motivational speakers and workshops on topics like financial literacy. Participants can take advantage of HYPE Works, which offers everything from mock interviews to Smart Serve and other credentialing workshops. A voluntary academic preparation course for students considering full-time studies covers essential soft skills like academic reading and writing.
Pedrae Cammock, 25, graduated from HYPE in August. After studying human development, she decided to pursue health and fitness at Centennial. “It was very inspirational and the amount of help I received makes me want to cry,” she says. “They helped me apply for school and even helped me fill out my (Ontario Student Assistance Program) application.”
Centennial’s community outreach coordinators focus on youth from underserved neighbourhoods, women in non-traditional careers – which includes women living in poverty who are sole support parents and view education as non-traditional – and members of the Indigenous community.
“We talk about developing a culture of possibility,” Bertin says. “Many don’t see the possibility of postsecondary education for themselves and don’t see what education can offer them in terms of improved lifestyle, a sustainable lifestyle that can assist them in caring for their families. What we’re really looking to do is not just provide an education but give our youth an opportunity to transform their view of who they can be.”
Upon successful completion of Centennial College’s HYPE program, students earn a certificate of recognition and take part in a graduation ceremony.