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Second chances with SWAU

A $5-million donation from The Joyce Foundation offers students facing adversity hope for a promising future

by Krista Habermehl, MA'05 | April 7, 2015

Second chances with SWAU
Grant Joyce, HBA’87, of The Joyce Foundation, joined Katryna Millard-Armstrong, School Within A University (SWAU) graduate and current Western student, to present a $5-million cheque to Western in support of student bursaries and the SWAU program in December, 2014.

In high school, Katryna Millard-Armstrong was a high achiever. She always got As. She was on student council and the social justice committee. She had a part-time job. She was a cheerleader. She took summer school courses to get ahead, not because she had to. Her teachers saw her as well rounded, hard working and bright.

In Grade 12, things changed. Katryna began experiencing debilitating bouts of anxiety, depression and mood swings. The thought of taking a test and not getting a perfect score caused her immense amounts of stress. Eventually, the thought of going to class seemed far too overwhelming.

“Some days, just getting out of my house was a struggle,” says Katryna. “I would wake up with my alarm at 7 a.m. and just lie in bed. The thought of getting up and getting into the shower felt like too much, let alone making it to class.”

On the days she did make it to school, Katryna says she couldn’t bring herself to walk through the door of her classroom. “I would just sit in the stairwell or cafeteria for hours. I was so close, but I couldn’t make myself do it. I can’t explain how defeated I felt.”

Because of her poor attendance, Katryna was unable to graduate from high school. She began taking courses online to get her education back on track, but still felt immense stress and anxiety over writing less-than-perfect assignments.

Katryna says she’d be shocked to have her diploma today if it weren’t for her guidance counsellor’s recommendation to enroll in a new program called School Within A University (SWAU), which was being launched at Western University in partnership with the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) in 2012.

Unique in Canada, SWAU allows 25 secondary school students facing challenges the opportunity to experience the university environment and earn credits at both the secondary school and university level. The program offers a unique and supportive learning environment with educators, counsellors, support staff and student peers.

In addition to helping students gain their credits, the program focuses on teaching valuable life skills and methods for coping with high-stress situations. Students engage in art therapy, yoga and spin classes and learn about budgeting and time-management techniques.

In December 2014, The Joyce Foundation made a $5-million donation to Western, $500,000 of which will support the creation of a second SWAU classroom. This will give an additional 25 high school students facing adversity the opportunity to pursue postsecondary education.

“The Joyce Foundation, Western and the TVDSB share the belief that education is one of the most effective strategies to break the perpetual cycle of poverty and is the foundation of human, community and national development,” says Amit Chakma, president and vice-chancellor at Western. “We are very grateful to The Joyce Foundation for its visionary support.”

The remaining $4.5 million will establish The Joyce Foundation Continuing Awards to assist up to nine new undergraduate students annually, with a preference given to eligible students graduating from the SWAU program.

Valued at $5,000 per year, students may receive the bursary for each of their four years at Western or one of its affiliated university colleges. This means up to 36 students will benefit in a given year. The Student Support Centre at Western will also match award recipients with a mentor each year through their Leadership and Mentorship Program.

“Through this gift, we want to ensure that more young Canadians have access to postsecondary education,” says Grant Joyce, HBA’87, of The Joyce Foundation. “We are so pleased to be able to help create the opportunity that will provide these students with the skills and confidence to dare to dream of going to university.”

In just two years, SWAU has changed the lives of 45 students, with 83 per cent of graduates continuing their studies at the postsecondary level.

“When the program began in 2012, we set modest goals,” says Laura Elliott, director of education with the TVDSB. “We hoped that the majority would finish high school and that about one-third would attend postsecondary school. We’re very pleased that SWAU is exceeding our expectations.”

Katryna, now 22 years old, is one of the successful graduates of the program. She is a second-year student majoring in Community Development and Sexuality Studies at Brescia University College at Western and hopes to work in the nonprofit sector or in policy development for the betterment of the non-profit sector. This is something she wouldn’t have dreamed possible before SWAU.

“I like to say that my life was on one trajectory and with one interview with the SWAU program director it went off in a completely different direction,” says Katryna. “It means everything – it was entirely life-changing.”

SWAU applications for the 2015-2016 school year are being accepted until May 4, 2015 from students 17–20 years of age who require up to six secondary school courses to complete their Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD). Students accepted into the program may choose from among a wide variety of courses, at secondary and post-secondary levels. For more information, and to apply, please visit: www.tvdsb.ca/Destinations.cfm?subpage=221063.

To make a donation in support of the program, please contact Jan New, executive director, Faculties & Divisions Development (519.661.2111, ext. 88458 or jnew@uwo.ca).


This article appeared in the Spring 2015 edition of Impact Western
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