From dropout to valedictorian: Barrydowne College gives students second chance at high school success

The valedictorian for a reintegration school in Sudbury says she wasn’t going to make her graduation address “sappy,” but Sarah Moore says graduation means her life has taken a "complete 180" since making the choice to attend Barrydowne College.
Recent graduates of Barrydowne College in Sudbury. (Clockwise starting in centre) Principal Susan Kett, Brody Lavoie, Chantal Riopel, Shelden O'Brien and Sarah Moore. (Casey Stranges/CBC)

The valedictorian for a re-integration school in Sudbury says she wasn't going to make her graduation address "sappy," but Sarah Moore says graduation means her life has taken a "complete 180" since making the choice to attend Barrydowne College.

The college, operated by the Rainbow District School Board in partnership with Cambrian College, supports 18 to 21-year-old students who weren't successful in a regular secondary school.

It offers Ontario high school credits in a small setting and provides students with more one-on-one time to complete their diploma.

"[The students] all kind of came from the same, I don't want to say background, but the kind of background where we had all dropped out of school or didn't like the school that we were going to and decided, ok, it's time to get our life together, so let's get it together," she said.

Moore says her speech to peers was more about realizing that anything was possible. 

"It's kind of crazy to think of where I was in life, and then now here I am with awards and bursaries and valedictorian and all this stuff," Moore said. "It's like a complete 180. So it feels really good."

Kids need warm, safe environment, principal says

Susan Kett, the principal at Barrydowne College, says her school picks students up that may have otherwise fallen through the cracks in the system.

"Our students come here for various reasons," Kett said. "Sometimes it's due to issues within their home school which caused them to not be engaged in their learning, and so they've become a dropout from high school."

"They don't feel a sense of belonging," Kett said. "They were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers in the building. They need more attention than what the school system can afford to them and so this more intimate atmosphere that we have here allows them to feel that warm, safe, caring environment in a more intimate level."

The school has an enrolment of over 150, Kett says. This year, she watched as 67 students received their diploma. She says it's a big step after feeling the weight of failure at their previous schools.

"I've been at many high schools over the course of my career and what I've realized as an administrator, is not every high school is a perfect fit for every student," Kett said. "And so some of our students do become disengaged."

Unlike traditional high school settings, the courses at Barrydowne College are tailored to the student, and include flexible timelines and the rate at which they're tackling new information. There is also a "blended learning" component, which means students don't necessarily need to be on campus for six-hour days. 

You can find out more about Barrydowne College by visiting their website.


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