NWT Grade 12 students explore Calgary universities


Grade 12 students from across the NWT spent the past week in Calgary, learning about different post-secondary schools and the courses they offer.

Their visit, organized by the charity Northern Youth Abroad, was part of the Northern Distance Learning program – known as NDL – offered to students in small communities.

The trip tries to bridge the gap between high school and post-secondary.

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“Everyone pursuing post-secondary has a very different pathway to follow. It’s something that’s very individualized,” said Janessa Kerr, a program coordinator for the NWT’s Department of Education, Culture and Employment.

“There are so many choices to make and so many different options available. [The program] helps to support them in figuring out what the right pathway is for them.”

Over the course of four days, students visited SAIT, Mount Royal, the University of Calgary, and AUArts.

Marcus Proctor, a Grade 12 student from Fort Good Hope, said the trip has made him more feel more prepared to graduate in the spring.

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“Each school we’ve been to specializes in different things, and it’s just really given me a perspective on what I’m going to be walking into next year,” Proctor told Cabin Radio.

“Coming from a small-town community, you don’t see 400 people just in one area. That’s not something we have. Same with fast food restaurants and crossroads and stuff like that. So it’s completely different.”

Proctor says after graduation he hopes to pursue fine arts and fashion design, with the goal of one day creating his own clothing line. Though he isn’t sure which institution he’s going to attend yet, he said he knows now that his goals are attainable.

A Grade 12 student from the NWT plays a virtual reality game at SAIT in Calgary. Megan Miskiman/Cabin Radio

“I want to be able to help different youths from the North to express and embrace their artistic side, because we don’t get as many of those opportunities to express ourselves in those ways,” he said.

“Three weeks ago, I thought university was just going to be me walking into a school and doing it, but it’s nothing like that. There’s so much more to it than that.

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“Being on actual campuses and staying in residence – in dorms with each other – and doing different activities at schools has helped me figure out what I, personally, like to do.”

Students participated in activities such as culinary class, welding, cybersecurity, and other courses that could be offered to them. Proctor says the most valuable information he took from the trip was the different types of funding available to students.

“I didn’t realize that a lot of schools are very flexible in how students get in, and find ways to support students who say didn’t graduate from high school,” he said.

“If I’m being honest, three years ago, I didn’t ever think I was going to be doing post-secondary. It didn’t seem like a possibility because none of my family has been, no one that I really know has been. And now I get to see that there are so many courses and so many opportunities, and it’s something that I know I can do now.”

Online class offers stability

Adriana Stewart, a Grade 12 student from Colville Lake, says the trip gave her more clarity about what she wants to do after graduation. Even though she hasn’t made a final decision, she knows the different options that exist.

“It’s not as scary or intimidating as it seems,” she told Cabin Radio.

“I got to see that there are resources for me and that, just because there are some bumps in the road on the way, that doesn’t stop everything. There are still ways for me to get to where I want to be.”

Stewart has been in the NDL program since she was in Grade 10. She is one of the first students in Colville Lake to take part, joining the NDL multi-community classroom virtually.

“We go to the physical school every day, but then we go into the online session in a separate room,” she said.

“We join a conference call with the teacher, and there are students from 19 different communities that are all there.

“There’s just a lot of stability with it, because the teachers are always the same. You’re not going from one teacher with one style to another one with a different style, and I think that stability has helped me a lot.”

Adriana Stewart (left) and Marcus Proctor at SAIT in Calgary. Megan Miskiman/Cabin Radio

Stewart says she feels more prepared for post-secondary and hopes she can help other students realize how beneficial NDL can be.

“If you think you’re up for it, just try it out, especially those in my community,” she said.

“I know there are a lot of people there that want to do things, but they’re not confident in themselves, and I just want them to know that it is possible. It really is.”

‘A really good first step’

Dakota Richardson, from Behchokǫ̀, wants to pursue criminology.

“It’s been pretty amazing. I learned a lot about things I didn’t know,” she told Cabin Radio.

“If I had done this on my own time, I wouldn’t know who to talk to, who to contact for the tours, and where to go for the resources.”

Richardson said she was excited to learn about resources for Indigenous students.

“I didn’t know that each university has an Indigenous room dedicated just for Indigenous people, and I’m really stoked about that,” she said.

“It’s just been a really good boost of motivation and encouragement that I can do it, I can graduate, and I can go to post-secondary and there will be resources to help me.”

Rebecca Bisson, the executive director of Northern Youth Abroad (NYA), joined the students in touring campuses around Calgary.

“It’s so much different to be here on the ground and have tangible experiences than just seeing movies or hearing your teachers talk about it,” said Bisson, who has been with NYA for 18 years.

“Actually being here and staying in residences and taking the train? It makes it more tangible, it makes it less scary.

“Watching these students for the past three days has been incredible. They’ve gained more confidence and I think it’s a really good first step for them to figure out what they want.”