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Vision: Making the grade

If it was only about the reading, the writing and the arithmetic, Larry Mattin’s job would be a heck of a lot easier.

But it isn’t, because challenging life situations, at home or out there in the world often get in the way. All which can limit a student’s chances of success in school.

“For our students, a bump in life has gotten in the way of their education,” said Mattin, the principal of the Cowichan School District’s Adult/Alternate Education and Distance Learning programs in School District No. 79.

With all the balls teachers in regular classrooms juggle,  they don’t often have the time to dig deeper, even if it appears that something is wrong.

“There’s always a story,” Mattin said. “Our challenge is to learn the story behind the scenes; how we can support them in their personal life.”

Kim Robinson’s is just one.

“I never got along with my teachers, I didn’t get the attention I needed, I needed more personal help,” the 19-year-old woman said. “I needed someone to push me, rather than just tell me what to do.”

While at Cow High, she said it was becoming clear she would have to drop out.

“Then I was given the option of alternate education and even graduation,” the young woman said.

Robinson transferred to the district’s Cowichan Valley Open Learning Co-op when she was 17 and working on Grade 10 and 11 subjects.

“The staff is so great, they are incredibly kind and supportive,” she said.

That support was especially helpful because Robinson said at times, her home life was difficult. Her mom worked all the time and Robinson felt very alone.  Another complicating factor? She became pregnant at 18, with son Noah.

“If I’d continued at Cowichan High, I wouldn’t have graduated,” Robinson said.

In addition to the special attention she received at CVOLC, two months after Noah’s birth, she placed him in the school’s daycare.

“They were amazing,” she said, adding she wasn’t sure if she could have found a full-time care provider she was happy with if not for the daycare. “Everyone looks down on alternate ed as a school for delinquents, but it’s a really great school.”

While she’s busy raising one-year-old Noah, she plans to return to school. She’s interested in business administration, because one day she’d like to open her own business.

“I’ve always wanted to be my own boss.”

Shelly Knocton is another of the school’s many success stories.

Unlike some of her fellow students who fall under Mattin’s purview, Knocton said she was doing well in the regular stream, but missed a lot of school because of health problems.

“CVOLC was really, really flexible, and that was a huge factor; it worked out a lot better for me,” she said.

The programs and his staff’s flexibility are the hallmarks of the program.

“In secondary schools, everything’s in the box, here we blow the box up,” he said. “We’ll twist and bend the system to meet their needs.”

That kind of approach is clearly paying off.

In 2006-07, Cowichan Valley Open Learning only had one grad. That figure rose to 60 in 2013/14.

The class of 2014 saw another young mom besides Harrison graduate, as well as three young dads, and the piece de resistance, two students who were babies in the daycare 17 years ago.

“I have the best staff in the district,” Mattin said of the teachers, student support workers and counsellors that work for him. “It’s one of the toughest jobs in the district, but the most rewarding too.

The stuff they’ve overcome to get to graduation is amazing.”

As Mattin says, there’s always a story.

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