Waterford ABE staying put - Students to receive same instruction at same site

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Steve Bartlett
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Juanita Somerton

By Steve Bartlett and Garrett Barry

The Telegram

Juanita Somerton couldn’t contain herself after learning her adult basic education program was off the budgetary chopping block.

“When they told us it was going to be there, I actually screamed and I started crying,” she says. “And I went over and hugged the girl that told us and I said, ‘My God, you just gave me my life back.’ I smiled the rest of the day. I went home and I couldn’t stop smiling.”

Somerton, who suffers from depression, is one of two dozen students enrolled in an ABE program for students with mental illnesses.

It’s run by the College of the North Atlantic (CNA) out of a centre on Waterford Bridge Road.

In the 2013 budget, the government announced the college would no longer deliver ABE.

That had Somerton and her classmates worrying about the program’s future — as well as their own.

They lobbied hard to keep it open through protests, petitions and media interviews.

Those efforts appear to have paid off. Earlier this week, a government official told them the unique program would still be offered.

For Somerton, the news lifted the weight of the world off her shoulders.

The program has changed her life, building confidence and shining a light through the darkness of anxiety and depression.

“This (program) is everything to me,” Somerton says. “I really felt like there’s going to be nothing to me, I’m not going to get to finish my school. ... Other people are going to put that stigma back on me. And I’m not going to have a reason to live anymore.”

Classmate Jacob King, who has severe anxiety disorder and chronic depression, was also relieved by the reprieve.

“I am absolutely pleased,” he says.

New Democrat Gerry Rogers pressed the premier and other ministers on behalf of the Waterford ABE students.

She thinks maintaining the class was a necessary decision.

“It’s a crucial program and without using superlatives and exaggeration, it was the students. Many of them said, ‘This saved my life.’ And there are graduates who have said the same thing,” Rogers says.

Joan Shea, minister for Advanced Education and Skills, was unavailable for an interview Friday.

Her spokesman confirmed students at the Waterford program were told “they would receive the same ABE instruction as they do now at the same location.”

While it will continue at the Waterford site, there are still some questions about how the program will be carried out.

“How they will deal with the ABE instructors is not entirely clear,” Rogers says. “They said they were looking at possibly putting it out to tender and will do a request for proposals for that piece of it. I feel that is unfortunate, but we’ll see how that proceeds.”

While thrilled their program will remain, Somerton, King and their schoolmates are now concerned about the fate of their instructors.

Somerton believes it’s important for them to keep the same teachers running the program.

She says they’re specifically experienced with the needs of program participants. Personally, she notes, they’ve helped her learn and made her confidence soar.

“I believe I can do anything because they tell me that, and I get the good marks, and I believe I can go out and be anything I want to be,” she says, later adding, “This is a lifesaving program, it really is.”

sbartlett@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TelegramSteve

Organizations: CNA

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Recent comments

  • Sylvia J.
    May 14, 2013 - 08:43

    On Open Line a few days ago, (I missed the last name, first name was Dave) CLAIMED that the government NEVER had any intentions of closing this program down and the whole thing was simply a lack of understanding and mus-communication.

  • Janice
    May 12, 2013 - 13:50

    I have respect for Gerry Rogers in her efforts to and success in retaining the ABE program for persons with mental illness. She at least understands that interventions for the mentally ill are not about numbers of registrants and graduates, unlike Joan Shea and Kathy Dunderdale. It is about meeting the needs of our citizens who live with complicated and complex challenges. I know for a fact that Joan Shea lacks the compassion to make decisions in the best interests of persons with mental illness. She operates at the level of self interest only. So whether she is found and asked to make a statement on the Waterford ABE program, or not, and whether such statement is one of political recovery or face saving, Joan Shea is not capable of being "responsible for the status of persons with disabilities".

  • Brian
    May 11, 2013 - 08:00

    This is a great decision and something that these people need and deserve. We as a society can and should have programs like this for our citizens. I hope that the minister and her department don't feel that it is necessary to make some stupid changes so that they can save face. Admit that this program works and it should stay (period).