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Learning Confidence

The Rotary Tom Jackson Stay in School Program is building positive futures for Indigenous students

Talia Basque is on her way to becoming the first in her family to get a post-secondary education. The 13-year-old has a shy smile, but speaks with confidence: she wants to study law at Harvard and have a career helping others. “I’m proud,” says Talia’s mom, Candace Basque. “She’s going to school to try and become something.” Both mother and daughter say Talia’s motivation and determination stem from the mentorship she’s receiving through the new Rotary Tom Jackson Stay in School Program. “I see them succeed and I want to be like them and help people like they do,” Talia says of her two female mentors.

The Rotary Tom Jackson Stay in School program provides mentorship and $1,500 a year each to Aboriginal children and teenagers as they progress through high school. The financial support ensures students have access to tutoring and supplies, with any remaining amount at the end of Grade 12 going toward further training and education. Children work with two mentors who help with homework and take them on field trips. Mentors identify when additional tutoring is required or if mental health needs are present. Program co-chair and Rotary Club of Calgary member Catherine Brownlee says the initiative is desperately needed: the high school graduation rate among Aboriginal youth is just 34 per cent—startlingly lower than the national average of over 80 per cent. “Many of the kids don’t even get to Grade 6,” Brownlee says.

The Rotary Tom Jackson Stay in School program is currently offered only in Calgary, but Brownlee hopes to take it across the country, with Rotary clubs in Fort McMurray, Red Deer and Lethbridge >> already expressing interest. Talia, who is in Grade 8 at Sir John Franklin School, entered the program two years ago and is one of 13 kids currently enrolled. Twenty-six community members have committed to long-term volunteer roles as mentors, for which Candace Basque is especially thankful. “As a single mom with five kids, I can’t divide one-on-one time between my kids and job,” she says. “The mentors have been positive for Talia, and in my life as well. They’ve had a positive influence on the family as a whole.”

Story By Paula Trotter