Cullen Crozier, aptn National News
A successful alternative school program in the town of Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories is on the verge of closing because of funding cuts by the Territorial government.
It’s called the Pheonix program and it helps students who have slipped through cracks in the education system. This has put many students who are benefitting from the program at risk of losing everything they have worked so hard for.
The program caters to students who have had trouble fitting into the regular school system. Heather Villeneuve is an administrator at the Pheonix program at the school.
“The majority of students work very very well in a regular high school setting. But there are those intelligent young people who need to get their education and be successful in life who need a different way of school. A lot of very deserving people who are ready to be educated but on different terms. This program is meeting their needs.”
Catherine Benwell is a single mother who is just a few courses away from receiving her diploma. She says that the program has been instrumental in her academic achievements.
“it’s very hard because a child needs a lot of attention and there isn’t a lot of childcare in this town and what not and so you have to balance it out and with this program it helps a lot.”
In the last three years the program has helped nearly 30 students receive their high school diplomas, 90% of which are aboriginal students.
But the program is still threatened by cuts. Starting next semester the government of the Northwest Territories will cut funding to the Pheonix school from $660,000 to an estimated $440,000.
Villenuve says people are working hard because they don’t know what is going to become of the program.
“people are scrambling now just trying to get as many credits as they can in before we close and it’s just really disheartening.”
Villeneuve says the program will have to run during regular school hours to help save money. But they say that will stop the program in it’s tracks.
Jason Lepine is with the District Education Authority.
“in this day and age when we would like everybody to succeed the last thing we should be doing is throwing obstacles in the way of success that’s not to say that we are not capable of working or collaborating with the government to ensure success of the phoenix program it’s just that it’s very discouraging to have those reductions.”
As for Catherine Benwell and the other 24 students set to graduate this year, the worry is that other students in their position won’t get the same opportunity to succeed.
“I was very disappointed because from people thinking that this is going to be going on for a long time then just cutting it off all of a sudden and changing their life plans type of thing I felt very disappointed.”
The government of the Northwest Territories is set to release it’s budtget next month.
The community of Fort Smith is now rallying to keep the program alive.
So far, the government has been unavailable to comment on the cuts.