School didn’t really appeal to 17-year-old Steve Johansen.
There were too many student and too much to do.
As someone dealing with anxiety, Johansen found the environment at school too stressful to concentrate on his work.
Johansen could have been a school drop-out, adrift in the world without an education or life skills.
Instead he dropped into the Reconnect Alternative Program at the Howe Sound Secondary School.
The program, run out of two rusting containers, is giving him—and many other like him—a second chance at school and at life.
Now, you will find Johansen chiseling wood in his carpentry class with teacher Mark Wilmot.
You might even spot him spinning pottery, or trying his hand at becoming a Dj.
“I never feel pressured here,” Johansen said.
The words are sweet music to Ryan Massey, the 38-year-old vice-principal of the alternative program.
Massey is a soft spoken man who has resolved to make a difference in the lives of the young men and women who end up in the Alternative Connect Program.
Their experience resonates with him.
As a teenager, he felt disengaged with school, but his teachers helped him steer on to the right course.
His present job is best way to pay it forward.
“This is about giving a fair chance to every kid that comes here,” he said.
It’s a tough gig, nevertheless.
Students who come to the alternative program face myriad challenges at school and home.
These are children who disregard authority, but beneath that contempt can be loneliness, poverty, lack of parental or community support, and many times, mental health issues.
“These kids can ask you to F-off, or there will be kids who will just shut themselves off,” Massey notes.
Massey and other four teachers who work at the school are specially trained in working with the kids.
The school has a very small student-teacher ratio, with one teacher for every 12 students.
That enables one-on-one interaction, while allowing teachers to study their students more closely.
The alternative program also shuns traditional discipline methods, instead relying on a more restorative process.
“We sit together and figure out a solution,” Massey added.
There are 80 students enrolled in the program, and they all hope to graduate from high school, thanks to supportive teachers and a much more relaxed learning environment.
A teacher in the program, Mark Wilmot said the program also helps students with clothing and food.
“We have a very close bond with our students,” he said.
Grade 12 student Jessica Johnston is committed to find her way to a professional program in BCIT.
She lives alone in Squamish, but says the alternative program dims some of her loneliness.
“This is my family,” she said.