With the pandemic forcing many people indoors, a lot of individuals began taking up different hobbies to occupy their time. Some have even registered in courses to either improve their skills or apply to post-secondary education.
Carrie Jolicoeur, a single mom, came to Valley Adult Learning Association (VALA) looking to enrol in the PSW course at Confederation College. Jolicoeur was not entirely sure of her decision, but knew she wanted to go to post-secondary school to gain a diploma in a helping profession, and that is where VALA came in.
There were barriers to Jolicoeur’s application that VALA helped her improve, in the hopes she would be able to pass the Mature Student Test. After contacting Confederation College, VALA discovered a much more suitable program for Jolicoeur, called the CICE program (Community Integration through Cooperative Education). This program is designed to help anyone with learning, social and intellectual challenges find ways to overcome them with small class sizes that are tailored to individuals with disabilities and special needs.
Jolicoeur took a variety of courses that included skills for work, life, computers, writing, personal and professional growth. She was also able to participate in work placements with employers in her preferred fields to provide relevant work experience. Jolicoeur, had a 4.0 average in the first year and is set to graduate this month. Jolicoeur, is one of the many success stories from VALA.
Kim Redford, instructor at VALA, said they are unlike any other education system because they do not tell you what to learn but rather you tell them what you want to learn, and they help you achieve it.
All of the programs at VALA are free, Redford said, adding that they are designed to increase skills. Individuals who complete a course receive a certificate of participation that gets them on the path they want, whether that be working towards a post-secondary education, high school diploma or taking courses to advance their career.
“We find a lot of people who want upward mobility,” Redford said. “They’re working in a job, and they feel they have untapped potential but there’s a challenge that they need to address before they can move forward. That might be a skill that they feel they need to become more confident with and we can address that.”
Redford teaches a wide range of classes from Excel to basic computer classes, adding that accounting is one of their most popular courses among others such as reading, writing, communications, Indigenous arts and culture, creating a resume, and General Education Development (GED) prep.
They offer in person (synchronous) and E-Learning (asynchronous) courses although in class learning has been put on hold due to COVID restrictions. All this is possible because of the funding from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.
VALA is partnered with Northern Community Development Services (NCDS) and Redford said they receive many referrals from them.
“We work closely with them. They’re the employment side so when somebody’s looking for a job, they’re out there to help you get that job, or help you look for a job,” Redford said. “But then if you find you need skills development, then that’s where we come in.”
Redford said the online courses have been popular because they are independently driven, and students can access them at any time.
“When you’re on lockdown, you need to keep your mind active,” Redford said. “If you can learn something new, that’s great. That’s really good mental stimulation and they’re excellent resources so people should use them while they’re at home and they’ve got the time.”
Good Learning Anywhere is one of VALA’s sister agencies which offers many free E-Learning courses. Redford said it is part of the employment Ontario network and it is one of the agencies that provide the E-Learning.
Redford adds that they can tailor a training plan to suit anybody’s needs but because of COVID, they are limited to what they can do in-person and are therefore relying on them.
Redford said they currently have three instructors and volunteers that they bring in for specialized courses.
“Sometimes we have someone that’s requiring very special support like physics or maths so we will pull in specialized subject matter experts,” Redford said.
Redford said that anyone interested in learning anything should contact them and they can help you figure out what classes you should take to create a tailored path to achieve your goals.
To learn more, you can call VALA at 807-274-3553 to leave a message or email firstname.lastname@example.org.