It's never too late to graduate.
That is the unofficial motto at Grand Erie Learning Alternatives (GELA), which offers students, returning learners and adults opportunities to continue their personal growth through a variety of credit courses to earn a high school diploma.
Cherkokee Arseneault hadn't been a classroom for more than a decade when she decided, as the mother of two young sons, it was finally time to become a secondary school graduate.
"Having children really puts the fire under you," said Cherokee. "You want the best for your children and want to be able to provide what they need."
As a 15-year-old, Cherokee didn't recognize the value in education and left her Brantford high school in Grade 10. She worked a series of minimum wage jobs in fast food and retail.
"If you don't have Grade 12, many employers won't even look at you."
Cherokee enrolled in GELA in September 2014 and, with a single-mindedness to succeed, earned the nine credits she needed for her Ontario Secondary School Diploma in just four months -- with a 90% average.
"I really pushed to get it done," she said. "I was very proud of myself."
Cherokee also participated in LEAP (Learning, Earning and Parenting program) through Ontario Works Brant.
"Daily, she took the children to daycare, participated in parenting activities throughout the community and attended school, achieving excellent marks with excellent attendance," said Courtney Montgomery of Ontario Works who nominated Cherokee as an Education WORKS Champion.
Cherokee said it was a challenge attending school as the mother of a three- and a one-year-old. She was reluctant to put them in daycare but the experience turned out to be positive for the two young boys.
"There were a lot of sleepness nights but, if I can do it (graduate) with two babies, anybody can do it."
Cherokee plans to wait until her oldest child in school before moving on to post-secondary studies, possibly an administrative assistant program.
"Cherokee set out her path and goals and achieved them," said Courtney. "She is setting an example for her children and her family."
Cherokee offers this advice to teens thinking of cutting their high school education short: "Stay in school and get an education. Everybody is in such a hurry to grow up. You need an education if you want to get anywhere and it's much easier to do when you're young."