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Fresh Start Gives Students a Second Chance

Fresh Start Gives Students a Second Chance

Published: 04/15/2014 by CCSD

» Current Affairs

Just over a year ago, the prospect of graduating from high school looked bleak for Felicia and her boyfriend Jesse.

Family issues, and drug and alcohol dependence impacted both of their lives just as they do for many in Fresh Start, the Calgary Catholic School District’s (CCSD) outreach program targeted at students at risk of not completing their education. The Fresh Start program was launched in September 2010 with the goal of reaching out to students who were down the wrong track, heading toward expulsion or dropping out. 

These students arrive with a wide range of problems and issues that distract them from their academic pursuits, if not derailing them entirely. Moving them back into a space where they can learn usually requires the teachers in the program to become surrogate parents, counselors and confidantes as well as educators. 


The program is based at St. Anne Academic Centre in the southeast community of Ramsay. 

Much of the learning comes through self-directed modules or online courses which students work through independently or with staff support as required. 
The students work one-on-one with staff to discuss their progress, goals, and physical and emotional needs. As students progress, many integrate back into a classroom setting at St. Anne. 


When the program began, eight students were enrolled, of which two graduated. Fresh Start now has 75 students and eight staff: three teachers, three  educational assistants, a family liaison worker and an academic counselor. Students also have access to on-site mental health and addiction services provided by Alberta Health Services. Last year, 13 students graduated. 


According to Kathie Strother, a founding Fresh Start teacher, it can take students three years to get through the program, even after attending traditional high school for a number of years, and they can face numerous personal setbacks. 


There are many reasons why students are not able to stay focused in a traditional classroom, which include addiction, mental health and trauma. Working through those issues that most often occuro utside the classroomis vital to ensuring students can eliminate  the distractions in order to learn and 

grow academically.



Felicia and Jesse are both on track to graduate – Felicia this June and Jesse next year – and both have plans for post secondary education and making a life together for their young family. 



The staff at Fresh Start believes that the kids in the program to be among the most resilient they’ve ever encountered. The program uses a quote from silent film actress Mary Pickford to illustrate the philosophy of the program: “You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down.”