Post-secondary workshops designed to help Haida Gwaii students succeed

Bhuvinder Vaid speaks with students at GidGalang Kuuyas Naay about strategies for surviving their first post-secondary programs. (Submitted)

When Haida Gwaii students go off to pick up a trade, degree, or diploma, they often get a strong fish-out-of-water feeling.

Beng Favreau, executive director of Literacy Haida Gwaii, says it’s mainly an issue for youth, but adults feel it, too.

“For a few years now, we have witnessed many of our youths going away for post-secondary learning but coming back months after as they found it hard to cope ‘out there,’” she said.

To give Haida Gwaiians young and old a kind of fish-jump over such barriers, this spring Favreau, local high school principals and the Haida Gwaii Higher Education Society invited Bhuvinder Vaid — a learning strategist at Kwantlen Polytechnic University — to come and give a special high school course and some community workshops about what he likes to call “life-long learning.”

“We realized we were scaring some of the students when we call it ‘post-secondary,’” Vaid says.

Most people assume “post-secondary” means studying at a research university such as UBC, SFU, or UVic. But the term includes trades and college programs, plus degrees at teaching-intensive universities such as Kwantlen, Capilano, or VIU.

On that note, just as Canadians generally underestimate the value of trades, Vaid said students who go into trades often underestimate the reading they need to do.

“The reality is that for the first month, in automotive or culinary or anything, it’s all textbook learning,” he said.

“So if you can’t take an article apart, you’re not going to pass the certification test so you can go into the kitchen or into the shop.”

Growing up in Kitimat, Vaid wanted to spend his first year after high school working in the Alcan aluminum smelter. But being the eldest child, his parents insisted he go to UBC, to set a “high bar” for his siblings.

“I wish I hadn’t gone straight to UBC,” he said.

While he is now a PhD candidate, as a first-year student, Vaid nearly flunked.

“I had all the skills, I had all the tools. But I did not know how to link them together.”

Developed over a year and a half with Haida Gwaii specifically in mind, Vaid designed a two-part high school course that aims to build effective, low-stress study habits.

For example, the course covers “note-making” as opposed to “note-taking” — a more personalized way of jotting notes that includes a variety of memory cues.

Vaid also talks about how to choose the best first-year courses for an easy transition from high school, strategies for reading quickly, and ways to avoid stress.

“Stress is not something that you have or don’t have — it’s something we manage,” he said, adding that it took him 20 years, but he has learned how much tennis, yoga, and dog-walking he needs to do between work to avoid the anxiety-isolation-depression trap that many first-year students fall into.

In all these approaches, Vaid said the main thing for younger students especially is that the motivation has to be internally driven.

“We move from the external motivators — a grade, making your mom and dad happy — to the internal motivation you need as a life-long learner,” he said.

Another thing is that students of all ages don’t give themselves enough credit for the good study habits they already use.

“Give yourself credit for the work and the thinking that you do — no one else is going to!” he said.

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