At the age of 53, Vanda Bisnath was nervous to go back to school. But, she found herself looking for a new job and, with no high school diploma, that wasn’t going to be easy. A door was opened when her Ontario Works agent recommended she take the Literacy and Essential Skills program at the Barrie Learning Centre.
“It’s so hard going back—life is so different now and so is school,” she said. “But I thought, ‘Why not give it a try?’ And here I am today, back in school and loving it!”
The Literacy and Essential Skills program helps people improve their academic skills to increase employment opportunities and get ready to earn high school credits. It is for people who may struggle with math, have difficulty reading and filling in documents, have low or no computer skills and/or have issues with time management and problem solving.
“Students learn the foundations to help them gain the literacy and numeracy skills necessary to either finish high school or find employment,” said Charlotte Parliament, Literacy and Essential Skills Program Coordinator, The Learning Centres. “When people start the program, they often don’t know where they’re heading and what they’re capable of doing. It’s wonderful to see students gain skills and confidence as they progress through the program. I love hearing how their life plans change as they realize their full potential.”
“I started out unsure about what my plans were, and now I feel really good about myself and where I’m going. I see the difference from when I started in October to now, and I see myself doing so much more. The PSW program would be a great fit for me—I love working with older people.”
Heather Knox is Vanda’s classmate, and she can also see her future developing.
“I’m making plans now,” she said. “I see myself working with children with special needs. I learn differently than a lot of students, and I want to help other kids who need that one-on-one help. I remember a teacher who really made a difference in my life. I want to be the person to make a difference for a student. That’s my goal.”
One of the things that has helped Heather advance in the Literacy and Essential Skills program is the different vibe at the Learning Centre compared to high school. In this program, she said, it doesn’t feel like being back in high school.
“It was important to me that I be treated like an adult,” said the 30 year old. “I’m coming to class as an adult, and I want to be treated that way. And the teachers here do that. They respect us. That means a lot.”
“I’m here because I am looking for a job and I need my Grade 12 diploma,” he said. “It’s relaxed here and it’s flexible. The teachers are very helpful. They take time to explain things to you so you understand. And if you need one-on-one help, they do that.”
Brian needs the flexibility that the program offers. He has a serious medical issue which requires him to go to weekly appointments.
“I’m able to go to my appointments and not feel like I am going to be behind. We move at our own pace and the teachers help me keep on track. That’s important for me with my health.”
After Brian gets his Grade 12 diploma, he is hoping to go to college and learn a trade.
Maghan Kirkby, 29, has had a difficult journey to get where she is now. She battled addictions for several years, and landed herself in various facilities over the years. But, she’s been sober for over two years now, and she wanted to start herself on a path to a career in health care.
“Coming back was really hard,” she said. “I started in October, but didn’t stick with it. Then I decided to come back in February and I really focused. I just passed history and English, and I’m working on more credits.”
Part of what is making her time in this program a success is the relaxed atmosphere, she said.
“It’s very easy-going here, and that helps motivate me. The program is good and the teachers are available to help.”
The program, which is partially funded by Employment Ontario, allows students to set their own learning plans and is self-paced to meet each learner’s needs. The classes are offered during the day or evening and there’s no cost for the program. It’s open to anyone needing to upgrade. All Learning Centre locations offer the Literacy and Essential Skills program.