It’s never too late to go to school and pursue that dream career.
Tammy Stone, a Sault resident in her 50s, stayed at home and raised a family before going through Contact North to begin pursuing a college diploma in early childhood education.
“I’m learning. I’m evolving. I love to be around kids and I’m good at it. I just need the official credentials and now I’m taking care of that,” Tammy said enthusiastically, speaking to SooToday.
Contact North, established in 1986, is a non-profit, Ontario government-funded organization, with its local office located within Sault College.
It partners with all Ontario colleges, universities, school boards and Indigenous training institutions to provide online education opportunities to under-serviced students.
“It’s all Ministry approved. All the instructors are approved teachers. It’s not like you’re getting a lesser education by doing it online, it’s just a different method,” said Jennifer Parsons, Contact North online learning recruitment officer.
“They’re so helpful,” said Tammy, nodding at Jennifer in appreciation.
“I don’t think I could do this if I was in a regular classroom.”
“One day I came in to the office four times to get help with online learning. I didn’t know left click from right click on a computer at first,” grinned Tammy, now in her second semester of a provincially-recognized, two-year Early Childhood Education college program and looking forward to the hands-on placement component of her studies.
“It’s amazing. I can do other things and start later in the day if I want. This is a perfect fit for me. I would recommend this to anybody, at any age.”
“I figure I’ll be done my college education in two years,” said Tammy, who works as a noon hour aide for the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board (H-SCDSB).
“Basically, our whole mandate is to help students get jobs in their communities by providing education within their communities (online instruction available through Contact North throughout the entire calendar year),” Jennifer said.
The role of Contact North’s office within Sault College, with three staff members, is to provide a comfortable place for students to meet with Contact North officials and have access to high speed internet for their course work if they wish.
“Last year Contact North (with its head office in Thunder Bay, a technical support centre in Sudbury) responded to over 800,000 service requests in Ontario,” Jennifer said, estimating she is assisting approximately 35 students, from 18 to 60 years old, actively involved in online studies in the Sault and area.
“Early Childhood Education and the Personal Support Worker (PSW) program are in demand in this area.”
Students have up to five years to complete their studies through Contact North, Jennifer said.
While Contact North’s services are free, tuition fees for students are set by individual colleges and universities (high school instruction is free).
Tammy’s online instruction comes from instructors at Oshawa’s Durham College.
Similarly, Sault College instructors provide online instruction through Contact North to Sault and area students, or elsewhere across the province, through YouTube style videos.
Students may go online at Contact North to obtain a great deal of information, including course information and registration instructions.
“It’s gratifying for sure. Right now we’re heavily focusing on high school education. Most of the people I’m helping in that sense are older and weren’t able to complete high school for whatever reason, they had kids and had to leave school early, so it’s great for them to be able to come back and get their high school diplomas and get better jobs out of it,” Jennifer said.
“It’s rewarding to me because I can see the difference I’m making in people’s lives. When I see people who have finished their programs and hopefully reaching their goal of good employment in something they’re interested in, you can see the excitement in their faces.”
“It’s something I never thought I could do. Never. But, I’m doing it,” Tammy said.