Three self-described "old farts" have launched a social-media campaign in a desperate bid to save a school that graduated 27 aboriginal adults from Grade 12 less than a month ago.
Educators Rob Loiselle, Rob Jacks and Arthur Mallon are using Facebook, a website, and online appeals to try to raise $320,000 to rent an abandoned core-area property and transform it into a combination classroom and carpentry shop -- and receive provincial accreditation.
Organized now as a new non-profit group Northern Stars Education Program, they're making the rounds of provincial departments and foundations and seeking partnerships with business and community agencies.
The men said they were surprised when their sponsoring umbrella group pulled out. They were told two First Nations had not paid to cover students' $6,500 tuition.
The province says there are at least 40 community programs in Winnipeg's core that offer Grade 12 completion and training opportunities; more applications for programs each year; and there is a limited amount of money.
"Why do we give a s---?" asked Loiselle, an industrial arts, English and history teacher.
He said it's because he's Métis and remembers the fight for French-language schooling.
Mallon, a carpenter who emigrated from Northern Ireland in 1967, tells the aboriginal students "Before they (European colonizers) came here, they came for us first."
Jacks, an industrial arts teacher, lost family in the Holocaust: "We can all identify with the (students') loss," he said.
Loiselle said he was involved for 14 years with the school that operated until June 30 out of an abandoned warehouse at 670 Ellice Ave., starting with his stint as president of the West Broadway Residents Association.
"We started a construction-technology program," he said.
"You take the youth that people say are the problem, and houses falling apart, and you put them together."
Loiselle said 16 of the 27 grads in June are pursuing post-secondary education or further training in trades.
"Quite a few are going to Red River College," he said. "The North End Community Renewal Corp. hired three of our students."
The three help students find housing, funding, furniture, whatever they need to get an education, and if a student runs into problems late at night, the three are only a phone call away.
"I consider it a 24-hour job," Mallon said.
Child and Youth Opportunities Minister Kevin Chief visited their former site recently, Loiselle said.
Executive Director Annette Willborn said the province is assessing Northern Stars for possible funding this fall.
The program must be assessed by both her department and the Education and Advanced Learning Department.
There are at least 40 such groups working in Winnipeg, and more applying, Wilborn said.
Northern Stars should be aligned with an adult learning centre, she said, and should look to acquire at least half its funding from non-government sources.
"It's very much an individualized type of approach," Wilborn said. "We fund a good number of programs. All our programs are delivered through community partners.
"(Chief) is committed to helping youth transition into further education and into the workplace," she said.
The Northern Stars Education program is at: saveourschoolwinnipeg.wordpress.com/
Its Facebook site is at: facebook.com/SaveOurSchoolWinnipeg