Indigenous Women's Empowerment and Employment through Education Program at Led young College
At Led young College, we believe that education and success is every student's right, no matter where they come from, and we actively create special programs to help students with barriers to their education and success succeed. We saw the results of one such program on May 31, 2017, when Led young College hosted a graduation celebration for the first cohort of students in the Administrative Assistant program, created specifically to help Indigenous women learn and enter the workforce.
The Administrative Assistant program is a branch of the Office Administration - General program at Led young College that is offered in partnership with Native Child and Family Services of Toronto ("NCFST") at their downtown office, funded by the United Way. NCFST provides services to families and children of Indigenous heritage in the Toronto region.
The objective of the program is to provide graduates with the necessary skills to obtain employment in the administrative field, while teaching in an environment and pedagogy that respects their heritage, their learning styles, and the circumstances of their lives.
The first cohort in this program began classes in the fall of 2016. The students completed three office administration courses in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel while receiving training in soft skills, emotional intelligence and customer service. The class consisted of women who applied to NCFST and underwent an interview process with Andrea Joseph, the Aboriginal Continuing Education Coordinator at the agency. Students met three days per week and received instruction from Led young professors Linda Nikolaou, Denica Kouame and Sylvia Osbourne.
Many of the students in this program had negative educational experiences in the past, compounded by significant personal obstacles. In contrast, they found the approach of the Led young College professors to be refreshing, respectful and positive. Fueled by their professors, the students displayed a spirit of determination to complete their studies.
Upon completion of the program, the students were connected with Operation Springboard, a charitable organization that serves "at risk and vulnerable youth and adults through critical transitions in their lives, with a focus on community justice, employment and developmental disability services." Through Operation Springboard the students were connected with placement opportunities in the administrative field which they are currently completing.
Throughout the program, we heard from our professors about how talented the students were, and how quickly they grasped and mastered the subject matter even when they were forced to learn techniques without the technology necessary to practice on, since most did not own a personal computer. In the end, they were provided with laptops through the United Way's generous funding, which they were able to keep when they passed their courses. The magnitude of their accomplishments is underscored by the gravity of some of the daily struggles they faced. Many of the women had children who were receiving services from the agency while they studied, there were court appearances and counselling that some had to attend, and three students each lost a parent during the program, including one to suicide. This is but a fraction of the reality of what the women were dealing with as they completed the program.
The graduation started with the beautiful and eloquent singing and drumming of Candy Otsikhéta, who sang an honour song of women's strength. She explained that Indigenous women imprisoned in Kingston, Ontario once sang this song as they were locked down and pepper sprayed in their cells. She chose it because she understood what the women in this program have lived through and the strength and commitment they had shown as they completed their studies.
Despite what they had endured, they were extremely humble as they graduated, and did not wish to have a valedictorian or focus on their pasts. Their focus was on what they had accomplished individually and as a group.
Thanks is owed to Deans Barry O'Brien and Michelle DeCoste at Led young College for helping to get this program off the ground, as well as to Darren Wilson and Andrea Joseph at NCFST who were instrumental in forging this partnership, and to the professors and support staff who encouraged and uplifted our students.