Focus Programs zero in on engaging students

How’s this for creative thinking? The Ottawa Catholic School Board has put on its institutional thinking cap to come up with some pretty compelling and positive options to appeal to different types of learners. Since 2007, the board has offered Focus Programs that are designed to meet the needs of students who may not be well served by existing programming. Available to all high school students, the engaging, multicredit packages are offered in unique, specialized settings. Each one is created and delivered by a lead teacher, and located in one school.

Right now, two types of the programs are offered and 120 teens are enrolled. Focus Awareness Programs, for students in Grade 9 and Grade 10, are designed to appeal to young people who need a more experiential approach to learning, says Manon Seguin, superintendent of student success. “These programs present students with more authentic learning experiences that help them make connections with the world around them.” SAWS (Students Achieving Workplace Skills) is offered at Notre Dame High School, Transportation is featured at Lester B Pearson Catholic High School and Guitar Studies is provided at St Mark High School.

Focus Exploration Programs, available in Grade 11 and Grade 12, give students the chance to concentrate on a specific subject discipline for a whole semester. This school year, they include Emergency Response Services at Mother Teresa High School, Sports Management at St Francis Xavier High School and Mobile Apps and Game Development at All Saints High School. “They provide an alternative learning environment with a heavy emphasis on on-the-job learning for students,” Seguin explains.

So far, over 500 kids have completed a Focus Program and follow-up suggests they have higher graduation rates than their peers who have not enrolled. Right from the start, the board’s Focus plan was a hit. Research showed students were enthusiastic and motivated about school because of the program. Moms and dads were impressed too. Some parents noticed their kids’ increased self-assurance as a result of participating. Others mentioned that the hands-on component of the course had been very beneficial.

This response to a 2008 student survey spells out the personal impact: “The Focus Program class really boosts your confidence. I discovered I am creative. I now am confident; I know how to do something. I finish my projects and I’ve proven I’m capable and that I do have ability.”

In addition to incorporating Catholic graduate expectations, the student-centred programs plug into a particular field of interest and enable students to come together to benefit from specialized equipment and teacher expertise. The result is both academic and experiential learning that can serve as the basis for a career or area of study.
Besides helping youth make well-informed career decisions, these offerings also assist them with a smooth transition to post-secondary education or the world of work, Seguin notes. While sometimes a guidance counsellor or teacher may recommend one of the Focus Programs, students are also able to apply on their own.

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