January 7, 2019

Bramalea Secondary School gives students a helping hand

Originally published in the Brampton Guardian, Marta Marychuk
Dec 23, 2018 

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At Bramalea Secondary School​ (BSS), it really does take a village to raise a child.

As one of 37 schools across Ontario to receive funding through the Urban and Priority High Schools Program, BSS provides a wide range of services for students to help them succeed at school and outside of the classroom.

The program was established after Jordan Manners, 15, was killed at C. W. Jefferys Collegiate in Toronto, explains BSS Principal Fraser Kidd.

Schools like BSS, located in urban centres across the province receive funding to help students who are at high risk because of challenges such as poverty, criminal and gang activity, and a lack of community resources.

The schools are located in urban centres with a population of at least 200,000 and have more than 500 students, adds Kidd.

For the past 12 years, BSS has received funding for the 1,100-plus students who attend the school. "The grant is essential for us to provide the program," says Kidd.

But, Kidd adds the need is greater than the resources at hand and the school is looking for ways to make the program sustainable.

He says teachers go above-and-beyond what is expected of them; the community donates food, clothing and organizations provide a small gift for children at a party during the holiday season.

Sarah Woon-Fat, a child youth worker, helps run the school's nutrition program.

She started the program as a cabinet in her office. The school now runs a breakfast program that feeds 60 students, a lunch program that feeds 42 and after-school cooking classes, so students can take food home for siblings and parents.

Woon-Fat oversees the program with Julia Colton, who is the Head of Guidance and Career Education at BSS, and a steering committee made up of teachers.

Colton says BSS does an attachment survey, with students asked to identify barriers to school success. Sadly, not having any food at home is one of the biggest barriers students identify.

"A lot of English as a second language (ESL) student are really struggling," adds Kidd.

In addition to the nutrition program, BSS runs a pantry program where students can take food home. The school also collected coats from the community for distribution to students and families.

The school also offers employment programs, such as the Smart Serve training program for Ontario's hospitality industry, disc jockey training, a truck and coach engineering technology program and barbershop instruction.

"It makes the kids more employable," Colton adds.

Co-op students run intermural sports programs and BSS also offers mentoring programs for students from single-parent families, outdoor education programs like Bramarama, as well as swimming programs and other life skills.

"We are creating pathways for all kinds of students," says Kidd. "We want to bring the community in."

Since the Urban and Priority High Schools Program there has been a big difference in graduation rates at BSS.

"The kids are fantastic here," adds Kidd.

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