That day was graduation day. Katie Colpitt’s was recognized for her hard work, commitment and, most of all, her sacrifice. Not only did Katie achieve her goal of getting her high school diploma—while raising a family and battling depression—but she was honoured by her teachers and peers with the Alliston Learning Centre’s “Unsung Hero” award.
“I was happy to get my diploma—I was ecstatic to receive the Unsung Hero award,” Katie said. “That was the day that pushed me to keep moving forward with my plan in life because I knew it was paying off. People were seeing how hard I was working through all the challenges I was having, and I was recognized for that work. It was incredibly encouraging for me.”
The 26-year-old had a long road to graduation. She quit high school at the age of 16 with only 3.5 credits under her belt. There were a variety of reasons why she left, Katie said, but overall, she preferred working and earning a paycheque to sitting in a classroom.
She worked at various jobs for a few years and had two sons with her then boyfriend. At 19, Katie realized she needed to take care of her family. She felt the best way to take care of them was to finish high school and find a career path she could follow, so she enrolled in the Young Parents Program in Barrie.
“It was great to be able to go to school and have my boys in the daycare that was there—it made things a lot easier,” Katie said. “And knowing I was bettering myself for my children helped as well. I wanted to be the best role model for my children as possible, and that meant not only getting my diploma, but also working towards a career.”
At 21, Katie had all but five credits for her diploma. Because she was no longer considered a young parent, she left the program and enrolled in the high school program at the Alliston Learning Centre.
“This was a hard time in my life. My family had grown—I got married and had two more children—and then my grandpa passed away, and we had been quite close. I started to feel overwhelmed, tired and sad, and I ended up being diagnosed with depression.”
Katie kept going to classes, but dropping off children at school meant she was consistently 10 minutes late, and going home during lunch to nurse her three-month-old made her late returning to class for the afternoon. She didn’t talk to anyone about this right away, but Katie was tired and disengaged.
It was then that one of her teachers, Julia Fleming, talked to her about her situation.
“I never told anyone about my struggles, but Julia and I bonded and I felt that I could open up to her. I told her everything that was going on in my life, and she praised me for working as hard as I was through it all. She made it easier to keep going.”
Julia had just returned to teaching from a maternity leave and had struggled with post-partum depression.
“There were so many days when it was a struggle for me to come to work,” Julia said. “I could see how hard Katie was working in between caring for her children and working so hard at school. She tells me that I motivated her through her education, but I don’t think she realizes how much she motivated me to keep going at a tough time in my life. She is an inspiration.”
The connection Katie made with Julia was the encouragement she needed. In less than a year, Katie finished her remaining credits and became a high school graduate.
But Katie’s success story doesn’t end there.
She heard about the Assistant Cook Pre-Apprenticeship training program that was offered in March 2013 through The Learning Centres, in partnership with FOCUS Community Development and Georgian College. Katie applied and she became one of the only 16 students admitted into the program.
“Cooking was such a big part of my life that I thought this was the door to a career for me,” she said. “It was even more of a sacrifice because I had to go to the college all day, Monday to Friday, and that didn’t leave me much time with my family. There were times when I doubted myself and my ability to complete the program, but my husband had faith in me. I knew it was a 20-week course and I’d be on my way to a career, so I stuck with it.”
Even though Katie excelled at her placement—she was even offered a job—she realized that kitchen work wasn’t the right path for her. But she gained a lot from the experience, including a chance for a career she felt was the right fit for her.
She applied for a position at Simcoe Manor in Beeton as a dietary aid. This job combined her love for cooking with her natural ability to care for others.
“My placement gave me confidence I didn’t know I had. I learned so much there and I was feeling really happy with life. When I saw the ad for a dietary aide, I thought that it sounded perfect for me. Knowing how well I had done in my placement gave me the courage to apply for this position.”
Katie said it was a wonderful day when she got the call. The years of work getting her diploma, the sacrifice of not being with her children as much as she wanted and the balancing act she had been performing for so long were all worth it.
On October 28, 2013, Katie proudly started her new career at Simcoe Manor knowing that she’s teaching her kids an important lesson: hard work pays off.