The Gateway program is a collaboration of Central Okanagan Public Schools and Okanagan College. (File photo)

Program transforms lives of vulnerable Central Okanagan students

Gateway program a collaboration of school district, Okanagan College

For students with the odds stacked against them in their lives, the Gateway program offers them a path for how to learn how to succeed in school and life.

Now in its eleventh year with more than 250 program graduates, Gateway is a partnership between Central Okanagan Public Schools through Central School and Okanagan College, a unique collaborative opportunity designed to connect high school students with learning a skilled trade.

“Vulnerable youths can fall through gaps in their education, having to deal with a range of obstacles from unstable family or living environment, to poverty, to addiction and mental health needs,” said Randy Horne, director of inclusive education for Central Okanagan Public Schools.

Horne talked about Gateway at the Central Board of Education meeting on Feb. 23, along with program colleagues’ acting Central principal Nathen Elliott and teacher Rob Law, explaining how Gateway goes far beyond exposing participants to learning a trade.

Gateway consists of two categories: a pre-Gateway program which builds on the team and social trust-building skills over 10 weeks; followed by a second 10-week term with trades programs at the college.

Horne said, Gateway also exposes how to address experiences in life – how to trust, how to become self-secure as part of a team atmosphere with classmates and build the confidence to overcome adversities in order to pursue adult career dreams.

Elliott acknowledged the path is not always smooth for Gateway students, crediting the dedication and passion of law for believing in Gateway students.

“The work and energy that Rob has put into this program are huge. He is often picking up kids to get them to school in the morning or taking phone calls at night…he is walking them through facing struggles and questions they have to find success in the program,” Elliott said.

“We serve an incredibly diverse and special group of students around our district, many who do struggle to just make it through the doors on a consistent basis and get to school, who face a wide range of varying barriers.”

Elliott said the Gateway initiative is transforming the trajectory of the students’ lives who participate, learning both career skills to lead productive lives as adults and life skills to help rebuild their often shattered capacity to trust.

In a video shown to the board, current Gateway participants echoed those themes, talking about their mental health and career skill growth, how the program has changed their lives.

Several trustees acknowledged the Gateway graduation ceremony held at the Kelowna college campus is one of the most uplifting tasks they get to experience every year, one that has been tempered by limited attendance due to COVID restrictions for the past two years.

This year’s ceremony will be free of attendance restrictions, expected to occur at a time yet to be scheduled in March.

Trustees also cited the Gateway support of private sector donors of bursaries and equipment as an important player in the partnership that supports the program.

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