High school had always been a struggle for Kara Hogenson.
She couldn’t understand why her teachers got on her case at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School when she wasn’t in class. She said she got into a rut and so in Grade 11, with a job at a grocery store, she decided she’d had enough and she dropped out of school.
In Alberta in 2009, only 71.5 per cent of students complete their high school diploma three years after starting Grade 10. The completion rate goes to 79 per cent five years after starting Grade 10.
Hogenson’s mother Theresa said if her daughter wasn’t in school she would have to work full time, which is exactly what she did, first working in the produce department for six months and later stocking shelves. Theresa said one of the things her daughter had to do was sort rotten fruit.
Hogenson said it was an eye opener.
“One day I came home from work and I said, ‘Mom, I’m going back to school,’ ” Hogenson said. “I got a taste of reality and was like, ‘What am I doing? I don’t want to work like this. I want to get an education.’ ”
Hogenson’s older brother Adam encouraged her. He was just a few credits short of graduating himself when he started working in the oilfield but he had always wanted to finish his diploma.
“He is like my best friend. He pushes me,” Hogenson said. “We both push each other because we want each other to succeed.”
Hogenson’s mom Theresa left school in Grade 10 and she wanted something better for her daughter.
“I couldn’t force her to go back. She had to go back for her own reasons,” Theresa said. “For her to go back was a huge step for her to do because she had been out of it for a year, but as a parent it was a proud moment.”
Hogenson picked the right moment. In September, both Red Deer public high schools started programs to help students complete their degrees. At Hunting Hills, the program is called Hunting Education Learning Place and at Lindsay Thurber, it is called the Finish Line.
In Hogenson’s case, it allows her to do her courses online at home, with support from teachers at Lindsay Thurber. Other students can choose to do the work at the high school.
Sharon Schultz, co-ordinator of the Finish Line program, said there are more than 20 students involved at Lindsay Thurber this year.
She was given a list of students to work with at the beginning of the year.
“I guess the best way I can explain it is that you have to be one heck of a detective because it’s not only figuring out what they may have missed, but what is holding them back from that diploma,” Schultz said.
She said she will look at all of the students’ records and their credits to figure out what they need to graduate. She said some students are easy to contact because they haven’t moved, but others have moved out on their own and she’ll have harder time tracking them down. Sometimes she has even managed to find students at their work places.
“So it’s been done with a very positive outlook and the students are given the opportunity to say yes or no of course,” Schultz said. She said it has been a “dream job” helping students complete their diplomas.
Hogenson first managed to get her graduation certificate and she is now working towards her high school diploma. She would like to become a paramedic.
Schultz said the program is the finish line for high school but really is the starting line for something else for the students.
Similar programs are being offered through the Alternative Schools Program at Red Deer Public School District after the school district received around $50,000 in funding from Alberta Education.
Red Deer Public deputy superintendent Stu Henry said it has been a matter of setting up a structure to catch students still in the school who are close to graduating, students who are only four classes short and then finally the more challenging students who may be older and are really reluctant because they feel like school has wronged them.
“From a personal level as a teacher, as an administrator, as a deputy superintendent, I don’t give up on kids. So it’s wonderful for me to see my district act in the same way,” Henry said. “We do not give up on them. We push them when they need to be pushed and we beg them to come back when they don’t want to. The message these kids are getting is that we care and we’ll work together.”