Students at Inner City High School, a school for high-risk youth, are self-aware about personal responsibility.

“It’s all on you if you’re going to succeed,” stressed Kirkland, whose cousins suggested he attend the school after he was kicked out of his home in Maskwacis. “You’ve got to be determined. The negative experiences push you to succeed. Everybody has hardships. It’s how you deal with them.”

Of the seven teens I interviewed, none live with their parents. They live with friends and/or siblings. Some work part time, but most receive Learner Income Support Benefits of less than $900 a month to cover basic living expenses.

The school provides a different educational experience than most schools. Classes are smaller, students and teachers are on a first name basis, and everyone is put on the same level through practices like sitting in circle instead of a more conventional classroom setup. Each student also receives individual academic assessments.

The students report better communication and more of a community within the school. At other schools they’ve attended, such as M.E. LaZerte and Ross Sheppard, they say that the teachers care, but they have too many students to provide the kind of attention needed.

“At my old school,” said Kirkland, “it focused on independent learning; here the focus is on you.”

In addition to academics, the school provides assistance in sorting out housing, food, and medical needs so that students can focus on their studies.

This means a lot to students like Naomi, who said, “From a young age, I loved school as a place to expand my horizons, but for a while that got driven out by bad teachers and bullying. I came to Inner City and got the support I needed to succeed without worrying about basic needs.”

Kaesha credits the school with changing her path. “I’m going to graduate now, and I probably wouldn’t have.”

Kaesha admitted that for her first year there, she wasn’t making good use of her time.

“One day I was talking to my auntie and she said that the school did so much for me but I wasn’t trying to meet them halfway. Now I am.”

The quieter members of the group echoed their classmates’ sentiments.

“I want a better life in the future,” said Isaiah, whose passion for sports helps motivate him.

Shayla said she stays in school, “So I can be successful and get the job I want, maybe something like being a vet.”

Katrina described herself as “independent …my mom kicked me out.” She nearly dropped out of school altogether before friends told her about the school. She stays because of “the teachers we have and the resources the school gives.”

Kaesha said, “A lot of us are here because it’s hard for us to attend other schools because of outside circumstances. So be a little understanding. We’re trying.”

Added Kirkland, half joking, “We’re not that bad. It’s not like we’re all criminals!”

These youth are working hard against some tough odds. Between the school’s support and their own determination, I have high hopes that they will find success.

Featured Image: (Left to right) Katrina, Naomi, Isaiah, and Kirkland, along with the other students, are determined to work against odds and succeed. | Rebecca Lippiatt