Manitoba

'I'm glad I came here:' Alternative high school program boasts largest graduating class

The tight-knit, flexible setting at Gordon Bell High School's Off-Campus program is a winner for Winnipeg students who flounder in traditional high schools.

Tight-knit setting a winner for Winnipeg students who flounder in traditional educational model

Dorian Sandy is one of 22 students graduating Tuesday from Gordon Bell High School's Senior Off-Campus Program. (Marcy Markusa/CBC)

High school had never mattered to Dorian Sandy, regardless of where his classes were held.

He was working on his Grade 9 studies when he transferred to Gordon Bell High School's Off-Campus program, an alternative for students struggling at traditional high schools.

"I was kind of indifferent about the whole thing," Sandy said about his thoughts at the time.

But his thinking has since shifted. 

"I mean, I'm glad I came here."

'This is a major event'

Sandy went from thinking he would never graduate from high school to looking forward to wearing a cap and gown Tuesday with the largest graduating class the Winnipeg alternative program has ever produced. 

"What's really special about this year's class is that we are graduating 22 grads, which is the most we've had," teacher Mark Dewar told CBC Manitoba's Information Radio host Marcy Markusa. 

The program is geared toward Grade 10-12 students, ranging in age from 16 to 21.

"This is a major event to these kids. Some of these students are the first members of their families to have graduated, so that sets a huge precedent for them going forward and changes their lives."

Staff with the Senior Off-Campus program on Furby Street, which has operated for more than 20 years, devise an individualized plan for each student, Dewar said.

The students work at their own pace, in a setting that favours flexibility over rigidity.

He said they form a tight bond since they spend their day together and aren't separated into different classrooms throughout the day.

"We try and help folks with problems or issues that they might have outside of school, because it's hard to learn if you've got all that other stuff going on," Dewar said.

In Sandy's case, he's learned to keep his anger in check and value tolerance. He has his school to thank for that.

"Every day is a really interesting day," he said.

"The people here are pretty awesome. We're all a little rough around the edges, because we're not exactly finished growing [up] yet, but, yeah, awesome people."

With his diploma in hand, Sandy is looking to join the military.

With files from Marcy Markusa

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