Alternative school thrives on partnerships

Simcoe Alternative Secondary School operates as one school with 10 locations across the county in Alliston, Bradford, Collingwood, Essa, Midland, Innisfil, North Barrie, Orillia, South Barrie, and the Young Parents Program. Laura Lee Millard-Smith, Midland campus principal, says it is only through community partnerships that they can create new and innovative programs to suit their curriculum needs.

She points to Collingwood, who applied for a grant with United Way Simcoe County to “bring awareness to the community about healthy living.” A group of students attended the youth centre in November to work with Farm To Table Market & Kitchen to prepare healthy food for the youth centre in Collingwood.

“They’re just cooking with the teacher, providing healthy snacks and talking about it with young people who are at those locations anyway,” says Millard-Smith. The Farm To Table Market And Kitchen group have made their kitchen available to the school who are now looking into offering a cooking credit next semester.

Programs often evolve into becoming part of their curriculum when the school collaborates with a partner in the community. Their Midland, Collingwood and Orillia campuses have a YMCA in the area which they’ve been accessing to apply for funding through programs like Jumpstart.

“It’s about getting the kids into the YMCA and participating in programs that they already run, including fitness activities,” says Millard-Smith

They have also adopted a leadership program, which they have connected to credits for their students for the past four years.

“The YMCA has been very supportive about changing the program up as we apply it year after year and it’s a great community agency to connect to,” she says.

Simcoe Alternative schools are only in their fifth year and were previously attached to regular high schools. All of their campuses are now in leased spaces off school board property and receive a different form of funding from the school board for that.

Access to special programming, however, is mainly via community partnerships.

“When enhancing the program, I look to the community, and there’s always a willingness and a welcome to work with students in alternative schools,” says Millard-Smith.

“Everybody is in an alternative school for a reason, and the reasons vary from mental health, anxiety; sometimes it’s a lack of family support, but we’re all here together to support the students in whatever capacity they need,” she adds.

She also explains that the graduation rate is difficult to determine as the Ontario Ministry of Education calculates it based on when a student starts in the school. She can share that with the current 300 students at Midland, approximately 55 graduated in 2016.

“That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s milestones for us, so we’re very happy,” says Millard Smith. “We love to have conversations with the community and weave them into whatever they’re doing.”

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