When Ruby Nakogee decided to leave the First Nations Fort Albany reservation on the James Bay Coast in Northern Ontario, she was determined to forge a better future for herself and her three-year-old son.
A single parent, she moved to Kingston and, though English was not her first language, she enrolled at the Loyola School of Adult and Continuing Education in order to complete her Ontario Secondary School diploma (OSSD). In order to be successful, she knew she had to make some changes and sacrifices and be able to balance school with single parenthood in a fast-paced world.
“It is a big challenge for me to balance life, school and being a single parent,” she said. “I’ve had to let go of most of my weekends, but it was my choice to get a better career in Kingston. There are many more opportunities here than on the reserve.”
Nakogee, who is Cree, has no family in the Kingston area and thus has no ready made babysitter when she needs to run errands. She says that she has learned a lot of patience and how to work things in to her schedule in order to balance school and parenthood.
“I try to complete my schoolwork at school so I can take my son out and spend time with him during evenings,” she said. “I live one day at a time, and I have learned to be patient. Living in Kingston and raising a child on my own is a big challenge.”
She recently graduated with her OSSD, working hard to overcome the language barrier to be successful. She enjoys studying law, and has big plans for the future that include helping her fellow First Nation people.
“My plan for the fall is to attend St. Lawrence College and study Community and Justice services,” she explained. “I plan on working in the First Nations Youth and Corrections field and also study psychology and work with Aboriginal people in Ontario.”
She praises the Loyola staff and the school structure for encouraging her in her studies and being flexible to allow for life circumstances while studying for her OSSD. The school caters to adults who are looking to continue their education, and she found the support incredible.
“Loyola has flexible hours, and you can get a tutor for your school work,” she said. “The teachers and staff are very supportive and encouraging and are doing excellent work in supporting adult students working toward their OSSD.”
Fellow graduate Salma Jerbi, who immigrated to Montreal with her husband from Tunisia in 2003 when he was pursuing his PhD, faced her own challenges in obtaining her OSSD.
“My husband studied for four years and then we moved to Kingston,” Jerbi explained. “At the time my English was terrible, so I joined the English Second Language (ESL) school to improve. My first school was Limestone and my second Open Book Loyola.”
She became a Canadian citizen in 2009, and it was while studying at Open Book that her ESL instructor advised her about Loyola and encouraged her to join the parent school to obtain her OSSD and continue her education.
“I studied many courses such as English, math, working and living with children, and others,” she said. “I picked these kinds of studies because I want to improve my English and obtain my high school diploma to attend college in the future.”
She has now obtained her OSSD and vastly improved her spoken and written English, and looks forward to putting her education to work in the field of Early Childhood Education (ECE).
“My plan is to continue my education in college, and I am interested in an ECE career in the future,” she said.
Her experience has been very positive and she has effusive praise for the staff and curriculum at Loyola due to the availability and flexibility of the curriculum and hands-on assistance from understanding staff.
“I am talking to a lot of my friends about the school and how there are online courses and they help adults like me who are often too busy to get their high school diploma,” she explained.
Both women graduated with the OSSD this June. They said they loved their experience and would highly recommend it for others who, like themselves, have faced obstacles in a busy world when attempting to get their high school diplomas and pursue further education. The support and hands-on teaching they have available is a big part of the success of their students, including Jerbi and Nakogee.
“I like the atmosphere at Loyola that encourages me to study and improve my skills with confidence and satisfaction,” Jerbi said. “It was a fabulous experience to share a nice time with my peers, teachers and all the staff. It’s like a family.”
“The teachers and staff are very supportive and encouraging,” said Nakogee. “I had a great experience at Loyola, and I would like to say thank you to all my teachers and staff at the school. There were times I wanted to quit my studies but the staff and teachers encouraged me to carry on. I am going to miss them.”