Dec. 9, 2016

Home's cool

Unique community-based program allows students rooted in their home community to spread their wings and fly.
Ashley Wright
Ashley Wright

Ashley Wright has neither the time nor the disposition required to mince words. A whip-smart, doggedly resourceful Chestermere-based single mother, Ashley has long moved mountains in pursuit of a sustainable and meaningful career, while diligently raising her two boys. Currently, she’s completing a community-based BEd degree through the Werklund School of Education.

Officially speaking, the program, launched in 2015, was designed to “attract students unable to commit to a residency-based program, and to allow them to gain teaching experience in the local communities they would serve.” If you ask Ashley why she was attracted to the long-distance option, her answer — delivered instantly and unapologetically — cuts through to the heart of the matter: “I chose this path because I missed my kids.”

Ashley graduated from Mount Royal University with a degree in Applied Child Studies in 2007, and has since worked as a childcare coordinator with Community Futures Treaty 7. Two years ago, seeking to expand her career opportunities, she returned to MRU where she took a full course-load and — ineligible for First Nation-funding for a second degree — also maintained a full-time job. “I worked all day, then went to classes from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.,” she says. “Who took care of my boys? Everybody. But I felt so bad.”

When she first heard about the community-based BEd degree at UCalgary, Ashley was disbelieving. “I thought ‘What?! I don’t have to rush off to a classroom and miss supper with my kids?!’ ”

Indeed, she doesn’t. The program enables students to undertake approximately half of their studies online, with a two-week residency period on campus each summer, and face-to-face practicum periods in schools within their region. According to Dennis Sumara, dean of the Werklund School of Education, it’s been a cosmic success.

“One of the first challenges in teacher education is to include adults who normally couldn’t be on campus full-time because they have commitments that can’t be left behind,” says Sumara. “We wanted a program that is accessible, inclusive and adaptable so these adults could achieve that degree — and, because of it, we now have a more diverse set of students with incredible life experience.”

Once graduated, Ashley hopes to teach First Nations kids and youth in Calgary and the surrounding Treaty 7 First Nations. Down the road, however, she may teach teachers herself. “I know I can build a career out of this degree,” she says. “And, truthfully, I don’t see myself stopping at a BEd — I want to do an MEd one day, and then a PhD if I can afford it.”

Meanwhile, she knows that Dalen (15) and Brayden (13) are as happy to have her at home in the evenings as she is happy to be there — albeit busily studying beside them at the kitchen table. “They’re really respectful,” says Ashley. “They see what I’m trying to do.”

Home, after all, is where the heart is. But it’s also where kids can watch their parent reach for the stars.  

In 2013, David Werklund, a business leader with rural roots and a passion for education, made a $25-million gift to the University of Calgary — the largest donation to a faculty of education in Canadian history.

The community-based BEd Program is one of many innovative educational programs delivered by the Werklund School of Education.

This year, new student awards from both TransCanada and ConocoPhillips will enable community-based BEd students in even the most remote communities to travel to main campus for their summer residency.