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Helping vulnerable teens on their journey to post-secondary and beyond

Students holding bowls of pasta
The Turning Points program gives youth the chance to explore their passions and potential career pathways.

Think back to being in high school, with graduation just around the corner and a world of possibilities laid out before you.

Maybe you knew exactly what it was you wanted to do for a living, maybe you were unsure. Or maybe a set of obstacles — academic, home life, financial — made thinking about the future impossible.

SAIT’s Turning Points program was founded in 2018 to give youth facing barriers in their lives the chance to picture what’s next. At-risk high school students are invited to explore SAIT’s wide range of programming through hands-on activities, catching a glimpse into career areas they may not have not known about or simply overlooked.

Finding the right fit

This year, SAIT welcomed four cohorts of the Turning Points program from four high schools. Guidance counsellors and career practitioners from each high school determine who is eligible for and could benefit most from the program.

SAIT hosted 46 students over the course of the 2021/22 academic year, with 35% identifying as female and 30% identifying as Indigenous. Most of the students indicated they had not done any career exploration before participating in Turning Points.

Over the course of two weeks, participants dipped their toes into all kinds of SAIT post-secondary program areas — making pasta to explore culinary arts, handling heavy machinery in a simulator to test out crane and hoist operating and letting dreams of a future in aircraft maintenance take flight aboard a helicopter. Other fields ventured into included 3D printing, medical lab assisting, and virtual and augmented reality.

“What I liked about Turning Points was seeing and exploring the different trade options,” says one student in a post-program survey. “I enjoyed doing the carpentry and the X-ray health care.”

Students sitting in helicopter
Student looking at x-ray screen
Students “try on” various career paths during the two-week program.

Beyond career exploration, Turning Points provides students the tools to prepare for post-secondary, with a focus on building skills that will help them succeed once they get there — organization, goal setting, studying and time management.

Students learn how to understand program prerequisites, finance their education, access resources for Indigenous learners and navigate the SAIT website when the time comes to apply. They’re also empowered to recognize their strengths and advocate for themselves.

Student spooning filling onto pasta sheet
Students using hammers on steel beam
In 2021/22, the Turning Points program welcomed 46 students from four Calgary-area high schools. 

Ready to take on the future

At the end of the program, students are left with a clearer picture of post-secondary opportunities. And more importantly, they feel ready to go grab them.

“Coming into Turning Points, I felt nervous and it felt like a lot of pressure because I didn’t want to fail but I also didn’t know if I could accomplish it,” shares a participant in a post-program survey.

“It showed me what I could do and even some things I’m good at that I would have never known. I think this program has helped me so much with seeing my pathways, and where I can go to get on that right pathway.”

78%

of students said they felt more confident.

79%

of students said they felt more motivated.

74%

of students said their post-secondary readiness had increased.

Results from this year’s post-program student survey.

A high school teacher whose students comprised one of this year’s cohorts noted students who would typically wait until the end of high school to consider next steps are now aware they need to start planning for their future sooner.

“Though many students are unsure of their career paths, they have at least started to consider which high school classes are most likely to get them into an area of interest,” the teacher said in a post-program survey.

Of the students who decide to pursue post-secondary, some choose SAIT. This year, three applied to high school dual-credit programs to start earning post-secondary credits, and seven applied to full-time programs for the following academic year.

25% of the remaining students who have completed the program since 2018 have also continued onto SAIT in some capacity.

“As a next step, I will be coming to SAIT. I want to succeed in my goal of becoming a mechanic,” says one of this year’s participants.

Student uses a crane and hoist operator simulator

A Turning Points student uses a crane and hoist operator simulator.

Help vulnerable youth picture what’s next

Programs such as Turning Points are made possible thanks to support from donors such as the Calgary Foundation, whose generosity helped inspire 42 students to continue their educational journey this year. Find out how you can make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth.

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