“I would never come home, I used to skip school for days,” said Madison Heaven-Lee Pigeau, 15.
“I’m a more loving and caring person and I have a better relationship with my family now, thanks to New Dawn,” she said.
New Dawn offers an alternative education program for high school students at risk of dropping out. With the Waterloo Region District School Board set to pass its budget Monday, New Dawn students and staff fear the program is at risk of cuts for the next school year.
“We don’t know what to expect and no one has told us anything. It’s not been good, from what we’ve heard from our principal,” said Mike Campbell, head teacher at New Dawn.
“The fear is that they basically can the truancy program. After 36 years, it will no longer be.”
Students, staff, friends and family rallied at the Fairfield Avenue school on Saturday hoping to shed light on the impact the program has for at-risk youth and the communities they live in.
“It’s a home away from home,” said Brittany Byrne, 15. “The teachers here actually help me do my work and help me through the problems that I have.”
Through the program, Byrne said she’s learned to be confident and “to love yourself for who you are.”
She has now set her sights on completing high school so she can attend college and become a personal support worker.
Kayla McKenzie, 17, who completed high school this year, said she would have never finished without the support she received at New Dawn
“When I came here I was way behind, like 15 or 20 credits,” she said. “With all the support, I started getting motivated to sit down and do my work and graduate.”
While at New Dawn, McKenzie discovered a passion to start her own business. She now operates Krazy Kayla’s, an online beauty product store based in her new home in Guelph.
“They noticed my drive,” she said of the teachers at New Dawn. “They guided me through what my goals were.”
Campbell said that the program’s success is based on its small classrooms — there is one teacher and three educational assistants for the 22 students enrolled. The teachers are accessible to students around the clock, so even when personal matters arise that could affect students’ schooling, teachers can be there to provide support.
“If it affects school, then it’s our business,” Campbell said.
Teachers aren’t focused simply on academics but on ingraining lifelong skills in the students.
“What they take with them is not only school credits, it’s life-changing attitudes,” said Jackie Roy, an educational assistant. “I think they leave here certainly as a better person, with better morals, better values, and it will make them a better citizen in the long run.”
The success rate for students who attend the program to reintegrate and complete high school is 55 to 65 per cent — much higher than most alternative programs, Campbell said.
The school also collaborates with former students and professionals in the community to work with and inspire students.
Harry Watts, a Second World War veteran, is one of the many community members who have worked with students at New Dawn.
Speaking to the crowd of supporters at the school, Watts said, “I quit school myself in Grade 9 and I know how hard it can be.”
Watts believes ensuring kids get a full education is the key to their success in life.
“It would be a tremendous loss to Canada if this program was cancelled,” he said.
The school board will be meeting with New Dawn staff Monday at 3 p.m. Final approvals for next year’s budget will be made at the board meeting at 7 p.m. Monday.
Share this Post