Wahsa Distance Education Centre expanding its services to include First Nation students

From Wawataynews.ca

Kenora jail prisoner graduates from Wahsa

By Rick Garrick/Wawatay News - October 25, 2013

Photo of Wahsa graduate Timothy Brisard recently enrolled in studies at Confederation College after completing his Grade 11 and 12 studies while in the Kenora District Jail.

Wahsa Distance Education Centre's secondary school program has provided a Kenora District Jail inmate with an opportunity to pursue a college education while in jail.

"Two days after I graduated I got accepted into college taking the general arts and science," said Timothy Brisard, a recent Wahsa graduate from Lake Nipigon First Nation who completed his Grade 11 and 12 courses while in the Kenora District Jail. "After that I am going to be taking the Aboriginal Community Advocacy course. Once I've completed that I will be going to bible college to be a minister."

Although Brisard was successful in completing his Wahsa courses over the past one-and-a-half to two years, he said it was difficult due to disturbances in the jail.

"There is no privacy and it's always loud here," Brisard said. "Sometimes there is a lot of tension here, so for me to focus on my academics, it has been really challenging. I kind of have to go into my own world; in order to get there I have to depend on God for his strength and for his power and just do my own thing."

Brisard completed the courses by viewing copies of interactive Smart Board classes captured on disks for viewing on computers. He also called Wahsa teachers for help with his work whenever required.

"I was the first person to do my literacy test at the Kenora District Jail," Brisard said. "And I was the first person to ever graduate (from secondary school)."

Due to Brisard's success, the Kenora District Jail has started up a Wahsa program for other prisoners.

"He did very well," said Darrin Head, Wahsa's principal. "His courses in Grade 11 and 12 were all college preparation courses and he was an A student."

Head said there are now 13 Wahsa students registered at Kenora District Jail.

"They have made a room available to us where our students can go on a regular basis and work on their Wahsa courses," Head said. "And we actually have a tutor now that goes in there for two-and-a-half hours a day, five days a week to help those students."

Head said the students have also been calling their teachers for assistance with their courses.

"But it's nice that they have a place to go and somebody who can work with them on a daily basis," Head said.

Head said the opportunity to pursue their high school diploma while in jail provides the inmates with more opportunities when they finish their sentences.

"We're really excited," Head said. "We can see a lot of positive things happening."

Wahsa has seen an increase in overall student success levels since switching over to the interactive Smart Board delivery platform in September 2012.

"All you need is a computer screen and Internet and you can join the class," Head said.
"They'll see exactly what is on that computer screen and broadcast. So if you have students in Big Trout, Bearskin, Sandy Lake, Deer Lake, Thunder Bay, wherever they are, they will all see what the teacher has on the Smart Board in the broadcast studio."

Head said the students can talk back and forth in real time and use their computer mouse to write on their screen, which is then seen by the teacher and other students on the Smart Board screen.

"It's totally interactive, it's audio, it's video," Head said. "It's like a classroom where you hear everything that is happening, you can see everything that is happening on the chalkboard, you can add to it and everybody will see it, but you just can't see each other's faces. So it's as close to being there as you can get."

Wahsa first began providing Ontario secondary school courses in 1990 over a radio delivery platform.