Talitha Hoorn is one of the latest students in School District 69 to take advantage of Head Start. The dual-credit program allowed Hoorn to graduate from KSS and the one-year culinary diploma at VIU at the same time.

THURSDAY SPOTLIGHT: Parksville Qualicum Beach students getting a head start during high school

Program allows students to graduate from college and high school at the same time

Talitha Hoorn and Aaron Bruhn had a head start.

By the time these Kwalikum Secondary School (KSS) students finished high school, they had also completed a college diploma and were ready to enter the workforce.

“It’s not easy, but if you’re passionate you can do it,” said Hoorn, who just completed a one-year culinary diploma at Vancouver Island University (VIU) and started her first cooking job at Cuckoos in Coombs.

To accomplish this feat, both students took part in Head Start. This district-wide dual-credit program allows students to take the first year of a diploma or certificate, a trades foundation program or university courses while in Grade 12, said District Career Education Coordinator Stephen Stahley. These post-secondary credentials translate into high school elective credits, thus allowing students to complete requirements for both schools at the same time.

Students in the district have taken a wide-range of courses through Head Start, including aircraft engineering, carpentry, theatre, ferrier programs, early childhood education and pre-nursing, said Stahley, who brought the dual-credit program to SD69 five years ago. These course were offered at a number of post-secondary institutions, such as VIU, North Island College (NIC), Camosun, BCIT and Kwantlen.

“It’s (the program) as broad as the interests of our students,” he said.

The Head Start opportunity also suits a lot of different types of learners. According to KSS career education co-ordinator Kathleen Hall, students who take advantage of the dual-credit program range from those who needed a change from the traditional high school system to high-achieving students who know exactly what path they want to take in life.

“You can’t pigeon hole the type of student who this would work for,” she said, adding that success in the program is more based on student maturity and dedication.

Bruhn, who graduated from KSS and NIC with a graphic design certificate in 2013, had a few different reasons for looking into Head Start. In particular, he listed not having to take the time after high school to get his accreditation and doing something he was interested in as the main reasons for getting involved.

Bruhn now works as a car salesman at Courtenay Kia where he uses his skills to design ads, take photos and post material online.

While Hoorn also said getting ahead was important to her, finding the right learning environment was a decisive factor, too. She said that she was “not interested at all” in being at high school because she found it difficult to connect with her fellow students and didn’t want to take classes that didn’t mean anything to her. “I wanted to be in a class of people with similar interests,” she said.

Luc Oulette, who is the career education co-ordinator at Ballenas Secondary School (BSS) in Parksville, said the fact that employers recognize university courses more than high school credits is also a draw for students. He said there is a “huge shift in student attitude” when learners feel they’re doing something that’s “real.”

However, Stahley is surprised at the low number of students in SD69 who take advantage of Head Start. “It’s a hidden secret,” he said. “What we need is more kids.”

Stahley is particularly surprised since the dual-credit program is a financially viable choice for many students. “From a student perspective, the school district pays for tuition (in some cases up to $5,000 in a year),” he said. “Students are responsible for their application fees, any post-secondary student fees, textbooks and any materials required for their program.”

To ensure students are aware of the exact costs, Oulette and Hall work directly with students before they enter their chosen post-secondary courses. In fact, Oulette thinks Grade 10 is a good year for students to start looking at Head Start. That way, he said, an individual can see if the dual-credit system is the right fit and the counsellors can help them map out what prerequisites they need in order to enter their post-secondary classes. Hall also said that they place a big focus on ensuring students complete the courses they need to graduate high school.

For example, Bruhn and Hoorn both found out they had to take English 12 in Grade 11 in order to take their chosen programs. Also, while neither of them physically attended high school in their senior year, both students had to check in occasionally to complete small grad requirements. Hoorn also discovered that she had to redo parts of Math 10, which she is currently completing while working. She hopes to graduate from KSS at the end of September.

While the dual-credit road occasionally got a little confusing, both Bruhn and Hoorn said they are happy they followed this path. “It was a great overall experience,” said Bruhn. “It’s a wonderful opportunity.”

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