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Career Move

May 22 2004

Not long ago, Matt Muncey was worried about what he would do with the rest of his life.

High school was an ongoing struggle. He wasn’t receiving the attention he felt he needed to cope, let alone excel.

The prospect of post-secondary education had little appeal. He envisioned university as being “high school all over again, just a whole lot harder.’’

Yet Muncey, 19, didn’t want to throw in the towel like his many friends who were dropping out of school. He saw those friends either landing meagre work or none at all. They were getting involved in the wrong crowd, not really amounting to much.

“I kind of realized that wouldn’t be a way to go,’’ he said.

The Bluefield high school student wanted better. He just didn’t know how to overcome his high school hardship to achieve success.

A program called Transitions seems to have set him on the right path. Muncey now has a goal. He also has a plan — and the confidence — to pursue his aspiration of becoming a carpenter.

Muncey, who has been accepted into Holland College’s carpentry program, is now excited about his future.

“I’d love to own my own business,’’ he said.

“Right now, I just want to get into the trade and get my foot in the door.’’

The goal of the pilot project, now in its second year, is to help students develop the skills and attitudes to make a successful transition to the post-secondary system or the labour market, said project co-ordinator Joan Diamond.

Firstly, the Grade 12 students accepted to the program develop at high school communication and critical-thinking skills. Then they head down the halls of Holland College, coming under the guidance of five mentors. Each mentor gives the students exposure to a wide range of career options that fall under information technology, business, culinary arts, trades and technology, community and health.

Students are given inspiring pep talks by the likes of successful developer Tim Banks, they get an up-close-and-personal look at different industries and they receive considerable hands-on learning.

Transitions student Nick Gauthier said he has been exposed to a world of interesting trades, meeting people training to be — or already enjoying careers as — chefs, plumbers, electricians, even underwater welders, to name a few.

“I got to see a lot of cool trades and cool buildings,’’ he said. “I got so much out of it.’’

The success of the program isn’t in just what the students are exposed to, but in how they are introduced to different career choices. Students in the Transitions program are guided, not instructed.

“Basically a mentor facilitates,’’ explained Linda MacDougall, the program’s health and community mentor.

“Teachers instruct. It’s all rather formal. They have a certain amount of curriculum to cover and then they have to prove they’ve covered it by way of testing and assignments.’’

MacDougall said she promotes personal development, introducing students to different experiences while trying to find what they are best suited for and most interested in pursuing.

Students in Transitions all raved about the personal interaction that comes from each mentor working with a group of just five.

Gauthier said he felt lost in the crowd in his large high school classrooms.

“This is a much better way to learn,’’ he said of the program.

“I do think that most learners, not just this particular group of students, need more attention then they get in the school system,’’ said Diamond.

Holland College program director Brian McMillan said Transitions is designed to help students get a good awareness of what is required to attend a post-secondary institution.

He said the program allows students to make an informed choice about where they want to go — and what they want to do — after high school.

“Rather than reading about careers or even spending half a day job shadowing, they have a chance to come to the college and be exposed to a post-secondary field,’’ he said.

Alan Cotton works with the Transitions students in a course called Employability Skills/Portfolio Development. He helps develop skills that are recognized as being vital to a successful transition to post-secondary education and/or the labour market.

Cotton said he has seen many negative habits replaced by optimism, enthusiasm and a positive work ethic.

“Lending a helping hand, sharing thoughts, helping search for information, helping fix the computer and participation in group discussions all helped create an atmosphere of enthusiasm, initiative, creativity and integrity in one’s work,’’ he said.

Diamond said the large strides made by students in Transitions is evident in the presentations they make after completing each three-week rotation with a mentor. Students deliver a formal presentation of their experiences to an audience consisting of industry, college and high school members.

Diamond said she is pleasantly amazed by how much the students confidence grew from the first round of presentations to the recent fourth round.

“I know there were tears in our eyes as we watched,’’ she said.

Transitions student Bob Terpstra, 19, said he now feels ready and able to pursue post-secondary education at the police academy in Summerside.

“It gives you more a sense of self-confidence in what you are cut out for,’’ he said.

Bluefield is the only high school currently involved in the project but the program is expected to expand to Kensington intermediate senior high school next year.

McMillan estimates up to 65 or more students from those two high schools will be involved in Transitions in 2004-2005. He said the program will be reassessed to see if it can be made available to more schools across the Island.

“Given that the pilots have been so successful, we believe that there will be support from the current players,’’ said McMillan.

Muncey believes many high school students could be set on a good career path if they were steered into the Transitions program.

“I know a lot of people that would love to be in this course, for sure,’’ he said. “They don’t have a clue what they will be doing.’’

A survey of almost 1,300 Island high school graduates last year showed 74 per cent of students planned to continue their education after leaving high school. That leaves one-quarter of graduates facing the daunting task of finding good, permanent work with only a high school diploma in their pocket.

“We have a number of students that opt to leave right out of high school and enter the labour market,” said Frank Hennessey, director of English programs with the Department of Education.

Hennessey said the department considers Transitions a successful pilot that has been able to get students who are disengaged at the school level to become engaged again.

He doesn’t see the program going away.

“We’ll grow it in small steps,’’ he said. “We’ll go slow, but we’ll do the best we can.’’

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