Jeff Heuchert, Gazette staff
A new educational partnership is giving local high school students who are thinking about a career in digital media an unprecedented look at what’s in store for them at the post-secondary level.
Details of the School Within a University program – a joint initiative of the Avon Maitland District School Board and the University of Waterloo Stratford Campus – were unveiled Wednesday at the St. Patrick Street facility where the program’s first cohort will begin classes tomorrow.
The program, believed to be one of the first of its kind in Ontario, will expose up to 22 students per semester to a university environment where they will have access to a wide assortment of resources and equipment.
Students will attend the campus Monday to Friday in the mornings, where they will take part in two post-secondary preparation courses – Grade 12 university English and Grade 12 university international business.
Eligible students will be selected by school board staff and must meet a specific criteria to ensure they are academically capable.
Christine McWebb, the university’s director of academic programs, said she was “absolutely thrilled” to see the initiative off the ground, and suggested it was just the first of many to come as a result of the university's partnership with the school board.
She encouraged participating students to take full advantage of the campus and noted she hoped to see them back for the university’s Global Business and Digital Arts undergraduate program.
Mayor Dan Mathieson suggested the program will provide its students with an advantage over their post-secondary competition.
It will also benefit the city, he suggested, adding those who choose to further pursue digital media at the campus will help develop the technologies that will serve as incubators for the next stage of the city’s economic growth.
Stratford Central secondary school student Mark Viani said he was interested the moment he heard about the program, noting he is excited to experience a university setting and the advanced technology it has to offer.
“It sounded really amazing to be able to come to the new campus,” he added.
For fellow student Maklane deWever, the opportunity to study at a digital media campus, when he plans to pursue post-secondary education in that very field, was too good to pass up.
“It’s definitely a new approach to learning,” he noted. “It’s a bit more unconventional.
“But I think I’ll learn a lot.”
The program is expected to build upon the highly successful Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Specialist High Skills Major program at Stratford Central, which since launching in 2009 has grown in popularity and gained province-wide recognition, and will be taught by Central faculty Andrew Bradshaw and Scott Bannerman.
The school board will also lend digital media equipment in support of the program and Central’s ICT and computer engineering staff will be available to students as resources as well.
And while Central was the logical first choice to take part because of its ICT successes, the board intends to open the program up to students from Stratford Northwestern, St. Marys DCVI and Mitchell District high school in the fall, with the hope it expands further in the future.
“I hope this is the start of something really big, not only for the students in Stratford but in all of our communities in Perth and Huron counties,” commented Ted Doherty, Avon Maitland’s director of education.
Doherty described the new program as “ground-breaking,” and noted the board is always looking for ways to provide its high school graduates with opportunities for the next step – whether they are pursuing a job directly out of school or hoping to attend college or university.
“And this unique opportunity, where students get to see the academic and social side of university, while still keeping one foot in the high school setting, is a fantastic opportunity for our students,” he added.