More students staying in school after pilot project launched
Lesley Weiman has seen a renewed energy at the North Battleford campus of North West College. The Adult Basic Education Level 3 teacher says you notice it in the corridors.
People are in the hallways having conversations. You can hear laughter. The student lounge on the second floor is now a place where people go to meet and do schoolwork.
One reason for the change: a coffee kiosk run and staffed by Weiman’s students.
Three times each school day, her students sell coffee, baked goods, fresh fruits and vegetables and many other items from the kiosk, known as the Snack Shack.
And because the kiosk is non-profit, the prices are sometimes cheaper than what students otherwise pay for food and drinks from vending machines.
The pilot project, now in its second year, started out as a way to get students to school on time. People were arriving late because they were stopping for coffee at a nearby Tim Hortons.
The college wondered if students could run a coffee business on campus.
There were other reasons.
North West College wanted to reduce the dropout rate. And Weiman had been hearing from students that the two-week work placements just weren’t working.
“It was our hope that giving them responsibilities every day that aren’t just academic responsibilities makes it more like the real world.”
Would running a business keep more students in school? Would it reinforce the lessons in the classroom? Would it bring the class closer together?
So far, the answers are yes, yes, and yes.
Kiosk helps students build confidence
Keneshia Sauvie left high school without graduating.
“I was just young. I didn’t know better,” she says.
Now 21, she’s back in school with a goal and a plan to get there.
She intends to complete high school at North West College and then go to cosmetology school. She dreams of being a makeup artist.
A resident of the Sweetgrass First Nation, Sauvie says working in a team with her peers helped her confidence.
“I came into school a shy person,” says Sauvie. “I couldn’t really talk to people.”
Working at the kiosk, she found her voice.
She also surprised herself in the classroom.
She’d always thought she couldn’t do math. She’s now finding she’s up to the challenge. And the lessons she learns in the classroom are reinforced working at the kiosk.
Students support each other
Weiman says her students write a business plan, do market research, and prepare a grant proposal. They work together to staff the kiosk, and buy and prepare the food.
There are four jobs: server, runner, cashier and inventory. Students fill each of the positions over three 10- to 20-minute daily shifts. The schedule rotates. Everyone does each job.
And each week, one of them gets a turn managing the entire operation.
Weiman says working at the kiosk touches on nearly all the topics being taught in the classroom: communication, math, life skills, career and work exploration, and entrepreneurship.
Before the kiosk, Weiman’s students didn’t necessarily get to know the others in the classroom. With self-directed learning, it wasn’t a priority.
Now, with a shared enterprise, they support each other. If someone misses a shift, a classmate has to pick up the work.
“They’re responsible to one another. They look out for one another,” says Weiman.
“If people are missing class, they’re hearing about it from their peers,” Weiman adds. “’Where were you? We were worried about you. Are you OK?’”
From dropout to student of the month
Shaylon Katcheech is an outgoing 21-year-old.
After some incomplete stints at high schools in Alberta, he made a plan to start fresh in Saskatchewan.
He moved in with family on the Saulteaux First Nation just north of the city. And he’s now settled in for his studies at North West College. He’s on track to get his high school diploma next spring.
In September, he was named student of the month, an award that recognizes integrity, attendance, grades and community involvement.
“I really like the environment. It’s really helpful,” says Katcheech.
Katcheech says he plans to keep studying after he finishes high school. He’s considering a number of fields including health care, social work and construction.
And Weiman’s class is a step toward his goals.
“She’s cool. She knows her stuff and she’s really teaching us how to work it.”
More students staying in school
Weiman says she believes the kiosk is keeping more students in school.
In the four years before the kiosk project, roughly half of ABE Level 3 students stuck through to completion.
In the first year of the kiosk program, 70 per cent of students made it through.
Weiman believes some of that is because there’s a greater sense of camaraderie among the students.
And Weiman says the change in atmosphere isn’t just in her classroom. It permeates the entire school.
“It gave the college a renewed energy.”