Courtney Joannise is a confident adult now, after graduating from high school at age 20.
"Now that I have finally achieved my Grade 12 and going on to college, my confidence has soared," Courtney says. "I feel like an adult, and little things don't make me worry as much, because I know I can accomplish anything."
Courtney has been selected as a 2017 Education Champion by the Education WORKS Alliance, after being nominated by her proud mother, Claire Atkinson.
The Brantford woman has attended at least six secondary schools over the years, never quite fitting in, not feeling comfortable in the classroom. She finally found a good fit at Waterford District High School, where she made the honour roll and graduated this past semester.
Today, Courtney realizes that she needed more time to mature, that she wasn't ready when she was younger. "Some things just take time and maturity."
Things haven't been easy for the young woman. She has faced family issues, been "in and out of foster homes," and has had to support herself since age 17, juggling multiple full- or part-time jobs or receiving assistance through Ontario Works, struggling to pay for food. She was homeless for a while in British Columbia.
Courtney's journey through the secondary school system hasn't been easy, either. She didn't feel comfortable in a regular classroom setting and had trouble with attendance; she dropped out and then tried again, then again.
She became more comfortable and confident gradually, taking things one step at a time. Courtney benefited from enrolling in the Turning Point Program, which offers an alternative, non-traditional learning experience.
After a two-year absence from school, Courtney tried again, this time at Waterford District High. She credits the "amazing support" of teachers there for her ability to earn 15 credits in one year, earning a math award and making the honour roll.
Courtney also credits her mother for driving her to school each day, even though it was well out of her way. She also feels indebted to her mother, a single mother of two who held down two or three jobs to raise her: "Someday I hope to repay her for everything she has done for me."
Courtney has applied to Mohawk College for its General Arts and Science (University Transfer) diploma, a program that will allow her to explore her interests, which include possible careers in nursing, broadcasting and policing.
Courtney is now proud of her achievements – not embarrassed – and she doesn't have much patience for people who are negative.
"I have had people tell me I was not good enough simply because I had not graduated or gone to post-secondary at the same time as other kids. They made me feel so ashamed of myself," she says. "But now I am more focused and determined than ever."
Courtney stresses that there are plenty of supports and resources that can help people on their education pathway, including counselling, tutoring and financial aid.
"Take the leap even if you're afraid. Don't stop yourself from achieving your goals."
Story by Mark Skeffington, Education WORKS Alliance
Photo by The Expositor