It was about this time last year that Hugh Boyd secondary student Makaila Hasan wanted to call it quits on school.
With family problems inside the home and a lack of peer support outside the home, academics added another pile to her emotionally full plate.
But instead of dropping out, Makaila, whose family moved to Surrey last summer, now travels across geographical boundaries on her 35-minute commute to the Richmond school.
Her perseverance will be recognized next Friday afternoon (Feb. 22) at the Stay in School Awards at Blundell elementary, organized by Richmond Youth Service Agency.
The awards motivate kids to do just that and achieve their educational goals despite some extraordinary challenges.
“It feels pretty good,” said the 17-year-old, Grade 11 student. “I’ve never won anything before, so it’s kind of weird, but in a good way.”
For Makaila, finding help within the regular school system was like finding her way through a fog without being given lights.
“I needed help, but it seemed like nobody understood how to help me,” said Makaila. “I was basically going to school feeling low, then going home and feeling really low. I was up to my neck.”
She was soon put in touch with a counsellor at Rogers Connections, an after-school program run by RYSA and funded by Rogers Communications to encourage students to stay in school by providing positive role models and life skills.
“I like being part of the program. The people make me laugh and smile.”
Since 2006, the Stay in School Award Ceremony has acknowledged such accomplishments with a Certificate of Achievement and a monetary award to be used for educational purposes. Funding is provided by the United Way, Children’s Aid Foundation and other community funders.
A professional such as a youth worker or counsellor who is working with the students must nominate them for the award. RYSA tries to accept all applicants.
“We know the counsellors wouldn’t just nominate anybody, these kids deserve it,” said Pam Khinda, manager of youth programs at RYSA. “Their challenges can range from ESL, to addictions, to couch surfing, to not having enough social or financial supports.”
RYSA received 38 applications this year, up from the 20-25 yearly average, and all 38 will be recognized.
Rather than an increase in challenges amongst Richmond youth, Khinda attributes the rise to an increase in awareness amongst Richmond youth workers and schools.
RYSA wants to further extend their outreach to parents and guardians who might know of eligible students as well, she said.
Past award recipients have used the money ($300 for high school students and $250 for elementary) for various school-related purposes such as covering transportation costs to get to after-school programs and helping with postsecondary tuition.
Spending time dealing with her own issues at Maples Adolescent Treatment Centre was enough for Makaila to know where her money was going. She plans on enrolling at Douglas College for psychiatric nursing.
“I saw how much these nurses helped and knew what I was going through,” she said.
“Nobody else knows the kinds of things that go on with people dealing with these issues. The nurses helped me through some really, really hard times.”
Without hesitation, Makaila lists English as her favourite subject at Hugh Boyd and has been writing poetry since Grade 4.
She chose to stick it out at the school even after moving to Surrey because of her counsellors, the teachers she found a good rapport with and the after-school program.
“It would have been really difficult to switch schools. So I thought, you know, you might as well finish what you started.”