University may be the chosen path for many students, but for others it seems like an impossible dream.
Lakehead University and Lakehead Public Schools are partnering to make those dreams a reality. The two institutions on Thursday signed what university president Brian Stevenson termed the historic Achievement Program memorandum of understanding at Sherbrook Public School.
The deal strengthens an existing partnership and lays out a path for students who might not otherwise be able to afford or qualify for post-secondary education.
“It’s the first step I think in trying to eliminate the barriers to higher education that a lot of children have and the first thing we have to do is make them understand that it’s achievable, that the university is theirs and to help them get there by any means we have to do,” Stevenson said.
The goal of the program is to raise $10 million over the next 10 years, while changing attitudes and expectations of both students and their parents, specifically targeting First Nations, Metis, Inuit and low-income families.
Students in grades 4 through 12 can earn money through the program to put toward tuition at Lakehead University, simply by taking part in a variety of yearly activities, ranging from academic camps to arts, science and outdoor programming.
Lakehead Public Schools director of education Cathy Siemieniuk said the entire community should benefit from the heightened partnership.
“Because as students see hope and optimism in their future and achieve their goals, it can benefit not only their lives, but the lives of everyone around them,” she said.
“This formalizes the partnership that we have. So students from our system will be able to take part in this program in a formal way. We have a responsibility to identify those students, and certainly the university is working with us to ensure that the achievement fund is available to them as they enter university into the future.”
Students will be encouraged to make long-term personal connections with the university as they continue through elementary and high school. Tuition credits are earned through completing their current activity year, participating in designated extracurricular activities and showing leadership or academic accomplishment.
“You have to work hard,” Stevenson said, noting this isn’t a free ride.
The program also includes an adult section for older students returning to the classroom, providing financial assistance for qualified candidates to cover things like books, transportation and child care. This part of the program will be funded solely through donations.
At least one student is excited about the possibilities the program might offer.
“I participate in the reading program at Sherbrooke School and the program was great. I had fun. When I grow up I plan to go to Lakehead University to learn about the law. I am really looking forward to more school,” Ryan Kejick told the audience on hand for the announcement.
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