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CFEC Celebrates its First College Grad

by Staff Writer / Vancouver Canucks
CFEC Celebrates First College Graduate! TJ Peterson beat all odds and proved many people wrong by graduating from college. On June 5, 2008, at the age of 27, TJ became the first person to go through Canucks Family Education Centre literacy programming to go on to receive a college diploma. She’s now a graduate of Langara College with an Arts & Sciences Diploma - all this for a girl who didn’t attend high school.

TJ’s academic hardships began in elementary school when she struggled to receive support from her teachers. Her confidence was scarred at a young age when she was told by teachers that she was bright, but probably wouldn’t excel in academics.

“I was even told by one teacher once that I was ‘stupid’ and ‘wouldn’t amount to anything in life,’” explains TJ.

Living in Saskatchewan with her mother, TJ gave high school a try, but dropped out two weeks after starting eighth grade. She attended alternative schools for a few years until she gave up altogether. High school academics were just not for her. At the age of 18, TJ moved to B.C. as a single mother of a new born baby boy. She faced financial hardships and continued to struggle to provide the kind of life for her son that she knew he deserved. When her son turned 3 years old, TJ was inspired to work towards her G.E.D. She attended an 8 month course through the Y.W.C.A INFOCUS program and when she was finished, she moved on to college. After attending college for 2 years, TJ found it difficult to focus on her schoolwork as the pressure to provide for her son often forced to her fail out of many classes and work a minimum-wage job.

“Life was tough for us,” says TJ about this time in her life. “We were very low income, I had no education, and I was a single parent. It was so hard struggling through school without any support.”

When her son started kindergarten at Britannia Elementary three years ago, everything changed. Her mom, who had since moved to Vancouver to be closer to her daughter and grandson, discovered a program at the Canucks Family Education Centre (CFEC) called Partners in Education (PIE). Located at the Britannia Community Services site, this program is for families with children in kindergarten to grade 3 and has parents join their children in the classroom, working with teachers as the children learn how to read. TJ began attending PIE regularly with Gabriel and found that the learning and support network it provided was not only effective for her son, but also for herself.

“I attended a parent group where I gained the support of other parents in my community,” explains TJ. “I was also able to volunteer in my son’s classroom which gave me the quality time with him that I needed to succeed in my education.”

As part of PIE, parents are supported by their peers and by CFEC staff as they set their own learning goals, including adult education, ESL learning, high school equivalency completion, and/or post-secondary education. It is a great opportunity for parents to bond with their children on an academic level and to meet other families in similar socio-economic situations. One of the most important components of the PIE program, however, is the healthy hot meals that are provided to the families alongside the learning, both of which are free for all participants.

Inspired by the learning environment and sense of community that CFEC provided, TJ made the decision to buckle down and work hard towards her diploma at Langara College. “I wanted to show my son that there’s a better life out there.”

In addition to the parent-child literacy program, CFEC also provided TJ with tutors when she needed extra help with her college classes as well as free child-minding when she needed to concentrate on studying for papers and exams. She becomes the first college graduate to have gone through CFEC’s PIE program, and now that all her hard work has paid off, her family couldn’t be happier for her.

“The Canucks Family Education Centre is the main reason why we are here today,” explains TJ’s mother, Lara, just moments after TJ had crossed the stage and accepted her Diploma in the Langara auditorium. “Today is the proudest day of my life.”

It was also one of the happiest days of TJ’s life.

“There were so many times when I just wanted to give up, but no matter how hard it became, I kept going and persevered,” TJ explains. “Without the help of CFEC, I probably would not have made it to graduation. They really helped me turn my grades around. Suddenly I was getting B’s and A’s instead of failing. I also find that my decision-making skills have grown so much. I now have the confidence to make the right decisions and to trust my instincts. I just really want to say thank you to the Canucks for supporting the Canucks Family Education Centre and helping to make my Graduation day at Langara College one of the best and most memorable days of my life.”

Following the ceremony, the Canucks organization presented TJ with her own custom “Peterson ’08” jersey, a token of congratulations from the hockey club.

“The Vancouver Canucks are so proud to have been a part of TJ’s college graduation and to know that we played some part in TJ’s success is huge for us,” says Jessica Danylchuk, Coordinator Community Partnerships & Education for the Canucks. “The success stories that frequently come out of CFEC continue to amaze us. It is so rewarding to be supporting such an effective Centre.”

To make this story even sweeter, it should also be noted that TJ’s mother, Lara, is now a part-time ESL teacher at the Education Centre, making that three generations of Petersons who are actively benefitting from CFEC programs.

Now that TJ has received her college diploma, she is already thinking about what her next steps could be. So far they include continuing to work her job at Lululemon Atheletica and tossing around the idea of heading to University to work towards a B.A. in Anthropological Mitochondrial DNA.
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