McGuigan students gain university experience

By David RosEditor One of the first things many students notice when they begin their university education is how different it is from their high school experience.No longer will students have teachers breathing down their necks to get their assignments done, no longer will they be yelled at by teachers for skipping class or refusing to do their homework. No longer will students find themselves in a structured environment where every second of every weekday is intricately planned out with a wide array of classes from roughly 8:45 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.At university there is freedom they say, however, with great freedom comes great responsibility. While university students may find themselves with more free time and less assignments to complete than high school students, a different kind of discipline is required to succeed at the post-secondary level.Teachers often remind students of this fact, but it's one thing to be told about it, and another thing to actually experience it.Twenty Grade 12 students at James Cardinal McGuigan Catholic High School got to experience university life last semester as part of the Advance Credit Experience (ACE) program. The program, allows students from disadvantaged neighbourhoods to enrol in a full first-year philosophy course at York University. The program also provides them with a co-op placement. The University provides an opportunity for students to gain confidence and experience in order to encourage them to pursue a post-secondary education.Out of all the schools participating in the program, McGuigan is the only school in the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) which provides students with this opportunity.“I am pretty passionate about philosophy, and when I took the philosophy course in grade 11, it interested me a lot. But going into university is such a big step and it made such an impact on me because you're thrown into something that you know nothing about. That's the best way for you to learn,” said Leyla Pabaricio, a grade 12 student who just finished the program.Pedro Rodrigues, a teacher a McGuigan, and one of the coordinators of the ACE program at the school said that not only did the program help the students better prepare for university, but it also made them more competitive in terms of their application process, because they now have first-hand experience at the university level.“First year [university] students are ignorant for the most part, they have no idea what they're getting into,” Rodrigues said. “They come from a world that's sugar coated and that's a fantasy, which is high school, and these guys have seen [university] and even though they're intimidated by it to an extent because they know the reality of what's coming, they at least have that knowledge base.”Rodrigues was keen to mention that students who were chosen to participate in the program were not chosen based on academics alone.“We didn't target highly academic students, some were more academic than others,” Rodrigues said, adding that all of the students in the program were from the York West area. “A lot of their parents have not gone to university, so they're the first ones to attend university or post-secondary [in their families].”Rodrigues said that he has noticed an “unbelievable transformation” after they completed the program.Pabericio agreed, saying the experience provided her with a new perspective on her education.“[Students] forget that they're going to have to pay to get an education after [high school] and I think the one thing I benefitted the most from is that I'm so much more mature and I've been humbled and I think that's the greatest thing that this experience could have given me,” Pabericio said. “I'm glad I experienced this now rather than later so that my marks don't suffer when I'm paying for it.”Malaika Hall, another student in the ACE program said her first university paper gave her a reality check.“Usually on essays, I always get As in my classes, but on my first university essay, I got a 68 and that was detrimental to my health,” she said.Hall said one of the main things that she learned was the importance of communicating with her Teaching Assistant.“I'm a shy person, I didn't communicate with the TA as I should have, but on my second essay I made sure, even if it was on the weekends to the point that he was getting tired of me,” she said.However, Hall's persistence paid off as not only did she get an A on her second paper, she also got an A in the course.Rodrigues said, that while the teachers in the ACE program were there to provide support for the students, they also didn't go after them to hand in their assignments, trusting that the students would be able to motivate themselves and would be responsible enough to complete their essays on time.Cassandra LeDuc, who also participated in the ACE program said she felt the increased freedom and responsibility the university course provided, helped to improve her organizational and time management skills.“I was more motivated to do the work in university because nobody was pushing me,” she said.Hannah Vedad, another participant, put her experience in the program into perspective.“It was a great adventure,” she said.In addition to their experience in a full university course, students also worked for two days a week at a co-op placement at the university where they made valuable networking connections with staff and faculty members.The students are also eligible for up to $5,000 in scholarships at York University.