SWAG helps vulnerable students complete their secondary education

By Bradley Turcotte –

The confidence that comes with a high school diploma eludes many students in the Carlington neighbourhood, as it is estimated 42 percent of Carlington high school students drop out before graduation. 

Based at Hampton Park’s Fisher Park Public School, the Students Will All Graduate (SWAG) program strives to arm vulnerable students with skills and training to ensure they complete their secondary education. 

Founded in 2013 in association with the Ottawa Carleton District School Board, the United Way and the Carlington Community Health Centre, SWAG offers students tutoring, healthy meals, tertiary education application prep and interview training as well as artistic activities and field trips.

Grade 10 Notre Dame High School student Julian Quansah says he applies the knowledge he learns on hiking excursions with SWAG in biology class and the program exposes him to the arts, programming he wasn’t getting in school. 

High school can be an insular experience, Julian continues, and SWAG allows him to meet students from other areas in the city who have different experiences and opinions from his own. 

SWAG Team members Notre Dame student Julian Quansah, youth worker Dana Elders, student and parent support worker Marta Clark and Glebe Collegiate student Bizuri Rwentambo. Photo courtesy of SWAG
SWAG Team members Notre Dame student Julian Quansah, youth worker Dana Elders, student and parent support worker Marta Clark and Glebe Collegiate student Bizuri Rwentambo. Photo courtesy of SWAG

Bizuri Rwentambo is in her final year at Glebe Collegiate and with the help of SWAG is looking forward to continuing her education. 

“Because I have been in SWAG I have many different options that I find interesting,” Bizuri says. “SWAG inspired me to work with youth. I realise the joy of working with kids and seeing them grow. SWAG helped me figure out where I want to go.”

Marta Clark is SWAG’s student and parent support worker, specifically working with students in grades 11 and 12. Marta shatters the perception that vulnerable students are unskilled. 

“These kids can do it. We are just aiding, supporting and enhancing them to find those skills and use those skills to get to where they want to be in their graduating journey,” Marta says. 

SWAG students are encouraged to enter the program during their summer break between grades eight and nine. Program youth worker Dana Elders says this time frame ensures the students will stay engaged and get excited about their academic future.

“It is a good starting point to assess what their strengths are going into grade nine so we can build that with them. It is also a good time to identify any barriers or challenges that they may be facing,” Dana says. “They have fun in the summer although there are a lot of academic components to it to assess where they are going to be as they enter the ninth grade. That translates as they go into the after school program.”

Marta attributes the school dropout rate to many factors including financial constraints, “family support and understanding.”

“These families can face a lot of barriers; literacy, language barriers for some of them and communication with the school,” Marta says. “We find we are doing a much better job at providing resources for these kids to have during those critical after-school hours. We have to make sure that the kids are engaged during those critical hours instead of not staying connected to anything within the community.” 

To inquire about enrolling in SWAG, visit the Carlington Community Health Centre’s website at carlington.ochc.org/youth-teen. Donations can be made at the United Way website at unitedwayottawa.ca/the-success-of-students-will-all-graduate.


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This feature is brought to you in part by Catherine McKenna, MP Ottawa Centre

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