All Portage centres for youth offer mandatory on-site school programming, recognised by local school boards and adapted to the needs of the residents. Whereas in the past many Portage residents have struggled with school and some have even abandoned their studies altogether, Portage Academy helps them rediscover their academic abilities and often reawakens the drive to complete secondary school and even to go on to post-secondary studies.
The Portage Cassidy Lake centre has an agreement with the Ministry of Education, School District 6 to deliver self-paced learning programs to the residents as well as provide the teachers to facilitate the Portage Academy program.
Randy Davis, Educational Coordinator for Portage Atlantic, answered a few questions to explain how Portage Academy works at Cassidy Lake.
Q: At Portage Atlantic, the youth are all at different academic levels. How can the teachers offer specialised course work for each individual based on his/her needs?
A: Portage Academy at Cassidy Lake is a self-paced distributed learning program, much like schooling by correspondence. Each student receives a course package tailored to individual needs for each subject that he or she is enrolled in. The students work through the readings and assignments in their packages with the support of the teachers who act as facilitators.
There are three full time teachers offering courses in both English and French. Working closely with the student’s home school, courses are selected based on the student’s need, whether he or she is advancing to the next grade level, graduating, or achieving High School Equivalency or the Adult High School Diploma. Due to the nature of the program, students are encouraged to take the lead with their school work and ask for help as required. Peer teaching and small group activities are also employed.
The teachers find that their role is greatly facilitated by the therapeutic community at Portage, because of the additional support that the students get from their peers and from the Portage staff.
Q: Self-paced learning is one of the cornerstones of Portage Academy. Could you elaborate about why this technique is so effective?
A: Within a self-paced program, students take control of their own learning and develop a sense of responsibility to their studies. Though some Portage residents have been good students in the past, many of them have struggled terribly with school, largely because they could not keep the pace that a teacher in a large classroom was setting for them. At Portage Academy, the teachers are there to support and encourage the students as they work through their course packages at their own paces, by facilitating, implementing, and overseeing the learning process of each individual.
Highly motivated students may even work towards completing courses during free time.
Q: What courses are provided and how are they credited towards high school completion?
A: Students will normally start by focusing on math and English or French. Depending on the grade level, some of these courses are either a semester or a full year in length. If the student seems to be working at a reasonable pace, another course or two could be added. Students also work towards credits for Health and Physical Education, Learning Strategies, Leadership and Culinary Tech. Though these electives are graded through the youth’s work in class, a large portion of their mark is determined through their participation in the Portage program. All courses offered at Cassidy Lake are recognised by the New Brunswick Department of Education
Q: How is Portage Academy integrated within the larger Portage program?
A: The teachers work closely with the Portage case workers to make sure that they are on top of all situations. Students know that their behaviour in one area is recognised in the other. Their work ethic at school is also directly related to the Pass System (which allows them time outside the facility with family members for progressive social reintegration). Teachers evaluate them based on responsibility, cooperation, motivation, independence, and leadership in the classroom. A positive report from the teacher will work in their favour in getting a request pass granted.
Success at Portage Academy facilitates success at the Portage program, and vice-versa. When these young people finish the Portage program and complete their high school education, they have a whole new lease on life. This fall, Portage Atlantic is seeing off many of its graduates to colleges and Universities in Canada and the United States, some receiving bursaries to support their efforts.
Portage gives residents hope for the future and Portage Academy gives them the tools and the confidence to pursue their studies and broaden their horizons.
“After spending a long time wasting my time, I have come to realise that I want more from my life and I realise that getting an education is the only way to do that,” said one former resident about going on to university. “The road ahead is long and costly, but now I am driven to follow through.”