Driving through Niagara-on-the-Lake on a weekday afternoon, one might notice the presence of a few teens around the area of Vineridge Academy. It harkens back to those days when hundreds of local teens attended Niagara District Secondary School in that same building. But as welcome as they are in town, the great majority of those Vineridge students are not local.
Since the 2010 closure of the high school by the District School Board of Niagara, there has been little teenage presence in town weekdays, from September to June. That’s because local high school students now either board a bus to St. Catharines or Niagara Falls, or arrange informal carpools for the trip to Eden High.
The town’s acting chief administrative officer, Sheldon Randall, wants to see teenagers back in Niagara-on-the-Lake during the school year.
To that end, Randall reached out recently to the cooperative education departments at the four area high schools NOTL teens typically attend.
A meeting was held at the town hall last week between the four co-op program leaders along with Randall, human resources generalist Sarah Stevens and community engagement coordinator Lauren Kruitbosch. The focus was to provide opportunities for high school students to gain valuable experience through cooperative education placements with town staff.
As the lead co-op teacher at Laura Secord Secondary School, I welcomed the opportunity to be part of this discussion.
Co-op is a program whereby students leave the school on a daily basis, gaining valuable experience in the workplace alongside professionals working in the field. Co-op placements are either half-day or full-day, and students earn two to four credits through a combination of on-the-job and in-class learning. For many fields, a co-op placement is often the only chance for a high school student to learn what goes into that career.
Laura Secord Secondary School students, some from NOTL, are currently contributing at animal shelters, vet clinics, elementary schools, law offices, seniors homes and auto shops, among many other sites.
Often, however, co-op teachers are limited in the opportunities they are able to provide. Though many organizations generously open their doors to our students, others either don’t understand the program or don’t have the manpower to work with young people.
The chance to have students working alongside Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake staff in various capacities is an exciting development.
And Randall, Stevens and Kruitbosch are clearly just as excited about the prospect of welcoming students from Laura Secord, Eden, A.N. Myer Secondary and Holy Cross Catholic Secondary Schools to their various departments.
The potential opportunities the Town may be able to offer are seemingly endless.
Randall floated such town departments as planning, bylaws, fire services, finance, information technology, communications, and parks and recreation as among those possibly able to host students.
The benefits to youth are obvious. As Randall pointed out, it is always difficult for NOTL and other municipalities to fill vacancies for positions such as building inspectors, and to retain good employees. The chance to bring a potential employee into the fold at such a young age, and to train that employee in a low-pressure situation, can provide an equal benefit to the Town.
Future job opportunities in the municipal sector cover so many different skills and careers. The problem for most young people, in my experience, is that they have very little understanding of exactly what it is a Town or City corporation does, and what type of careers are available.
Randall, Stevens and Kruitbosch are determined to open the doors to their various departments so high school students can begin to learn first-hand what types of jobs are available.
The next step for Randall is to bring the idea to the Town’s senior management team. That should result in a list of departments willing and able to host students. From there, Stevens will work with the managers of those departments to provide a list of opportunities to the co-op departments at the four schools.
If all goes as planned, the first students placed with the Town could begin their experience on Feb, 18.
It’s a fantastic first step toward seeing more youth in all corners of the town, Monday to Friday, on a more regular basis.