Current and former P.E.I. youth in care 'ecstatic' over tuition-free learning

Current and former P.E.I. youth in provincial care are receiving what one calls a 'life-changing' opportunity to attend Holland Collage tuition-free.

'I was so ecstatic — I just wanted to cry at that point, I was so happy'

'I thought it was just too good to be true,' says 18-year-old Nicole Sock, shown with Holland College vice-president Doug Currie, left, and Holland College president Sandy MacDonald. (Submitted by Kelly Peck )

Nicole Sock was having the most wonderful dream. The 18-year-old Prince Edward Islander was going to have her tuition and residence fees at Holland College covered while she studied at the post-secondary level. 

But it wasn't a dream. 

"Lo and behold, wake up the next morning and it's true!" 

Sock is one of eight people for whom Holland College has decided to waive tuition thanks to a pilot program announced back in February. 

The project supports prospective students who once were or currently are youth in care on P.E.I., by helping them attend a post-secondary institution without worrying about the cost. 

"There are lots of cool things about being president of Holland College, but none cooler than this," said president Sandy MacDonald.

"You don't always get an opportunity as an educator to really impact young people the way they were impacted [by this] so it was something special." 

'It was life-changing'

A record number of youth in provincial care — who need to be cared for away from their own families for a variety of reasons — graduated from P.E.I. high schools this year. 

On Tuesday evening, a ceremony attended by family members and friends was held to celebrate their accomplishments. To many, the announcement of full-tuition scholarships came as a surprise. 

"I was so ecstatic. I just wanted to cry at that point, I was so happy," said Sock. "I thought I would have to pay for the whole year. 

"To actually get a breather — it just feels amazing. It just feels so good to actually have my hard work pay off."

'Our youth are so valuable. To see moments of success like this — I don't think there is anything more special for me,' says Kelly Peck, the Island's director of child protection. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC)

Provincial law prohibits publishing the identities of those under 18 whose care falls under the Child Protection Act, so CBC News is using "Megan" to refer to a 17-year-old scholarship recipient to whom we spoke.

"It was never really in my plan to go to post-secondary, but I really do believe that without this, I kind of would have got lost, never would have gotten the opportunity to show the potential that I hold," said Megan. 

"It was life-changing." 

Megan was the only recipient who knew in advance about the scholarship announcement, but she had to keep it a secret from all the rest. 

"That was super exciting because I knew that they would just feel the same thing as me," she said. 

"It's a different feeling when you go through success as a group. It's kind of like being on a sports team. It's something like jumping in a doggy pile after you win that goal." 

'It gives them hope'

Tuesday was a "perfect night," according to the P.E.I. director of child protection. 

"There was laughter, there were tears, there was excitement," said Kelly Peck. "They were the superstars.

"It gives them hope and the dreams of what they want to do in their future. I don't think there's anything more important than that in terms of moving forward into adulthood."

Doug Currie, Holland College vice-president corporate services, and Kelly Peck, the director of child protection, attended the ceremony on Tuesday night. (Submitted by Kelly Peck )

Brad Trivers, P.E.I.'s minister of social development and housing, was in attendance as well. 

In a statement to CBC News, he said: "The youth being recognized this week have overcome significant adversity to be where they are today and these supports provided by Holland College will make a huge difference in their lives."

Also announced Tuesday night: two more years of funding for the Youth in Care Network, which helps provide a sense of community to those in the care of the province. 

"It's awesome," said Tyler Murphy, an adult support worker with the network. He said he was "really fired up for the young people because they want to do more, they have special projects, they have ideas, they have lots of stuff they want to do.

"It's a place where youth can get together and kind of share their experiences and support each other and really feel that sense of belonging." 

Plans for the future

Moving forward, the Holland College president said his staff will monitor how the program works this year but is optimistic the same project will continue next year.

"I think there's a lot of people who work in and around post-secondary education who kind of take things for granted," MacDonald said. 

"These young people were taking nothing for granted," he said of the youth receiving the scholarships this week.

'It was really something to see,' says Holland College president Sandy MacDonald of the free-tuition class of 2021, 'many of whom have overcome significant barriers to be where they are today and are taking on this new challenge.' (Submitted by Holland College)

As for two of the scholarship recipients, they are looking forward to the start of the semester and the future beyond that.

"If I can complete this year, it's just going to get me rolling into what I want," said Sock. "Just to know that I've accomplished things and I've earned things from working hard, that just gives me such a sense of happiness." 

Megan agreed. 

"I just need one opportunity to show who I am and I believe I can take it further than that," she said. 

"I'm excited for the rest of my life." 

More from CBC P.E.I. 


  • In a photo, this story previously misidentified Holland College vice president Doug Currie as Brad Trivers.
    Jul 05, 2021 7:05 AM AT