Early-intervention programs increase chances of post-secondary admissions

By Ashleigh Viveiros
Special to SchoolFinder.com

Remember those career fairs they used to hold in high school?

One day out of the school year you'd go into the gym, get a million brochures on different careers and schools, and feel like you had to decide your entire future based on just one afternoon.

For those of us who hadn't known what we wanted to be since kindergarten, it could be a scary and overwhelming experience.

For others, it was a waste of time. They thought they'd never make it in post-secondary education and no one had ever told them otherwise.

Darrell Cole, creator of Career Trek, an early-intervention program in Winnipeg, Manitoba designed to get kids thinking about their futures long before high school, says it's a crazy system, and one that needs to change.

"We want these kids to stay in school and get a post-secondary education," says Cole. "If kids don't understand why what they're doing in school now is important, they won't get there."

Every Saturday for 20 weeks, over 200 kids in Grades Five and Six are exposed to careers and programs - ranging from aviation and aerospace to engineering and biology - at the University of Manitoba, Red River College, and the University of Winnipeg.

Each workshop at the different institutions teaches kids why the stuff they're learning now can be important in the years to come.

"If a kid hates spelling and they don't see the relevance it has to their life, and they try being a journalist (for the day) and they love it, they've just learned why spelling is important," he adds.

Cole says it's too late to get kids excited about their education in high school. By then, many students have already lowered their future expectations or just plain dropped out.

In order to catch kids early enough to make a difference, Career Trek recently dropped its age qualifications to include only 10- and 11-year-olds.

"We're trying to get in early and get them hooked," said Cole. "Kids aren't stupid. If you give them a reason to care about school, they will."

Students are chosen for the program based on a variety of criteria, but it mainly boils down to those students who have the potential to go on with their education, but who may not do so because of poverty, low self-confidence, or a lack of interest in school.

In the eight years since Career Trek started, more than half of its graduates have gone on to post-secondary studies right out of high school. With such a success rate, many of the program's current employees are past participants now pursuing their own post-secondary education.

Sarita Sawh, a 21-year-old science student at the U of M, graduated from Career Trek in Grade 9. She says the experience helped open her eyes to all the options available to her.

"You learn about all the different things you can do after school," she said. "It opened my eyes to everything else out there."

And after spending weeks at three of the major post-secondary institutions in Manitoba, heading to university after high school was easy.

"I wasn't that scared about it because I was already at all the universities," says Sawh. "I already knew about each post-secondary institution. It made the transition easier for me."

The benefits of early intervention programs have been turning heads in educational circles for years. And although they've been popping up across the United States for awhile, they've only recently made the jump north of the border.

Over the past year, the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation has paired up with various provincial governments to start pilot programs across Canada.

Starting this spring, 2,000 students in New Brunswick will take part in this kind of program, with an additional 2,000 set to be involved in 2005.

On the other side of the country, British Columbia has been running the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, in which students take advanced-level classes and tutoring to help gear them towards post-secondary education.

As of this September, British Columbia will be expanding AVID to 19 more schools, spending millions of dollars on its upkeep.

But money aside, programs like Career Trek are quickly becoming the new educational trend simply because they seem to work.

"I don't know how else children will have an opportunity to go on to higher education if they don't get exposed to it early on," says Sylvia Taylor, principal of Prince Edward School in Winnipeg, which has been sending students to Career Trek for over six years.

Taylor says the students who go through Career Trek come back to school noticeably different.

"This is a very good thing for them," she says. "They're very interested (in school) and then they add to the classroom."

Cole is also optimistic about the work he's done.

"Has it had a positive impact in the short term? Absolutely," he says. "The kids are more future-oriented, more self-confident, more interested in school."

And that, says Cole, means a brighter future.

Modified on April 23, 2009