Some of the at-risk students from Good Shepherd Notre Dame House School in Hamilton, Ont. Photo courtesy of Good Shepherd Notre Dame House School

At-risk Hamilton school graduates 8

By  Erin Morawetz, The Catholic Register
  • June 20, 2012

Good Shepherd Notre Dame House School in Hamilton, Ont., graduated its largest class yet on June 19, with eight students collecting their high school diploma.

For Loretta Hill-Finamore, director of youth services at Good Shepherd Centres, having a graduating class of eight is very inspiring.

“That’s our goal, for everyone to graduate,” Hill-Finamore said. “We’re so proud of them.

“It’s just amazing to see what happens, because we know education is power.”

Eight graduates is a big deal for this small specialized school run by Hamilton's Good Shepherd Centre. The school provides special programming for youth who have had problems in mainstream schools. Many are or were formerly homeless or street involved.

Tom Montgomery, one of two teachers at Notre Dame, said he applied to the job because he wanted to work more with at-risk students, an experience he has found very worthwhile.

“It’s a very rewarding experience to see some young people turn their lives around and move on to higher education or the workplace,” Montgomery said.

Students at Notre Dame take a wide variety of subjects, including English, social sciences, even courses such as law and aboriginal studies. By working out of Independent Learning Centre booklets provided by the ministry of education, Notre Dame offers more flexibility than mainstream schools.

“The hardest part, especially initially, is getting (students) into the routine of coming every day,” Montgomery said. “Working out of the booklets, they can pick up where they left off.”

Another difficult part for the students is figuring out their exit plan — difficult for most graduating students, but particularly those from Notre Dame.

“What are they going to do from here so they don’t end up back in the same (position)?” Montgomery said.

But many Notre Dame graduates have been very successful, going onto college and university programs and getting jobs.

Samantha Sheavs, a single mom who has been at Notre Dame for three years, is graduating this year and going on to take a chef training program. She said it feels good to move on and show her daughter that graduating from high school gets you further in life.

Braden White, another student at Notre Dame, has just eight credits to go. He is taking summer school in order to graduate some time next year and is looking forward to going to college. White said he had behavioural problems all through elementary school, though his diagnosis of bipolar disorder only came when he was 16. He credits Notre Dame and its teachers, in particular, to getting him where he is today.

“The time and energy that they put in to each and every student is remarkable,” White said.

For more information on the program, see www.goodshepherdcentres.ca.

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