When it comes to public eduction, it seems like the only news that makes headlines these days are stories about budget cutbacks.
That presumably, was the intent behind six interior school board representatives who visited the Portage Keremeos youth rehabilitation centre last March.
They were looking for ways to cut the budget, but after a tour of the facility they had a change of heart. The cuts weren’t made – as a matter of fact, they actually increased the budget to Portage.
“The teachers who work here work for the local school board,” explained Portage Director Diane Power-Jeans. “Any funding comes from School District 53.”
Portage runs four classrooms at their Crossings facility, located six kilometres west of Keremeos. Teachers instruct three days each week through the school year and two days each week during the summer. There is an additional part time art teacher, in addition to a Teaching Assistant.
“They said, ‘Wow, what a wicked program,’” Power-Jeans added. “They couldn’t understand why our beds weren’t full.”
“Six retired school superintendents toured the facility in March,” explained School Liason Officer Steve Pozzobon, “as part of a provincial audit team. They were very impressed what they saw at Portage. As a result, funding to provide increased programming is being made available.”
There are currently 12 residents undertaking the Portage program. During an average six month stay at the facility, residents have the opportunity to get as many as two years academic credits – some can actually achieve their high school graduation.
Math, science and English is taught at Portage. Art instruction, woodworking and personal development are on the books, and a cafeteria program is now underway.
“I think it’s one of the things that keeps kids here,” said Power-Jeans. “Kids grab onto it – they can actually do something with it.”
That’s the way Portage resident Shantell feels. The 18 year old is currently taking phys Ed and math courses, and intends to become a Registered Nurse.
“I’m planning to go to Thompson Rivers University after my outward grad studies,” she said. “I won’t be quite finished my grade 12 when I leave here, but I will finish my courses at home and graduate in 2014. “
Shantell has completed half of her program at Portage.
“This is the best place, school wise,” she said enthusiastically, noting the benefits of small classes and the one to one relationships in learning that is available at Portage.
“Most of us don’t know how to study. Naomi and Cody (Portage teachers) give us the skills – and they don’t give up.
I like the setup. Older students assist the younger ones, there’s lots of personal help. I’m really grateful for that, and I really respect the teachers here.”
Portage gets its teachers through the You Learn program, which has learning centres in Oliver, Osoyoos and Keremeos. In addition to providing instructors to the Portage program, You Learn also caters to home schooled and adult students.
“The majority of students at Portage do better – but the educational training goes hand in hand with the therapy,” said Cody, a three year teacher at Portage.
“The problems that turn them to their addictions are the same ones that don’t allow them to succeed in school,” he added, “as they get organized, learn to structure their lives and deal with stress, their abilities in school also improve. The access to professional therapy gives them an opportunity to get the social, emotional and educational focus they need.
Kids suddenly discover they can do this, they can get an education.
It’s a pretty amazing experience, to watch these kids put in the effort, come clean, and have them realize, ‘I can learn.’
I feel strongly that there is a need for this system in more places than Portage,” Cody concluded, “there should be a set up in every elementary and high school in the province – Portage could be used as a model.”