Innovative program puts at-risk high school students on path to university

Now completing its first year, the School Within A University (SWAU) program is offered to up to 25 Thames Valley students experiencing exceptional change or challenges and who are at risk of not completing their Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD). The program gives these students the opportunity to complete their final high school courses required for graduation, as well as earn a university credit on Western’s campus at no cost.

“The aim was to mentor and support these students in their secondary school studies while allowing them to experience university life and learning in hopes that they will be inspired to continue their post-secondary studies,” says Julie McMullin, Professor of Sociology at Western University.

Of the 21 students currently enrolled in the first cohort, 15 have applied to college or university, including Katryna Millard-Armstrong who hopes to attend Western University in the fall.

“I wasn’t the type of person to succeed in a traditional high school setting and it wasn’t because I wasn’t smart enough or I didn’t work hard enough,” Millard-Armstrong says, admitting that she has struggled with depression and anxiety. “Being in the SWAU program is really a life changer for me because this time last year I didn’t think I was going to graduate high school. It’s been just incredible to be involved.”

The SWAU program is taught by TVDSB teacher Robert Bell who says early discussions about the program considered it to be purely exploratory. However, because of the students’ success, Western and TVDSB have committed to making it an annual offering. “We have students who are achieving A’s and A+’s in their university courses,” says Bell. “They are not just testing the waters of university. They are succeeding and excelling.”

Eligible students were selected by school staff for the pilot program and met criteria set by TVDSB and Western’s Admissions Office that prove they are academically capable. Many of these students had left the school system and a significant effort by school administration and staff went into identifying and reaching former students who may have been potential apvisit the School Within A University website. plicants.

“It is important to note that several of these students had stopped thinking about their futures. They have hope again,” says Becky Howse, Principal of the School of Adult, Alternative and Continuing Education with TVDSB. “This is a testament to their own hard work and also to the Board’s mission to build each student’s tomorrow, every day.”

Applications for the 2013-2014 school year are being accepted until May 6 from students 17–20 years of age who require up to six secondary school courses to complete their OSSD. The 25 students accepted into the program can choose from among a wide variety of courses, both at the secondary and post-secondary level. For more information, visit the School Within A University website.

Paul McKenzie, Learning Supervisor, Program Services, Thames Valley District School Board, 519-452-2000 ext. 20399,

Stephen Ledgley, Senior Media Relations Officer, Western University, 519-661-1111 ext. 85283,