CREATE Program celebrates $677K in scholarships

Sisler’s CREATE Program celebrates 677K in scholarships to Vancouver Film School with friends, family


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Shaughnessy Park

Sisler High School students stood facing the crowd on three rows of bleachers, whooping and hollering and even fighting back tears as classmates were called up one-by-one. The pretenses of high school and teenage life, the jockeying for social leverage, seemed non-existent in the group, whether buried beneath the jubilation of their mutual accomplishment and acceptance into Vancouver Film School or eroded by hard work, evenly shared. They were the students of Sisler’s CREATE Program, in which students study film, animation, game design, digital media and more.

This was all before the real good news was broken to the students: all 23 students in this year’s scholarship group would share in more than $677,000 worth of scholarships from The Schroeder Foundation, which would cover 90 per cent of each student’s tuition to Vancouver Film School.

The rows of parents in folding chairs in the school’s Taras Korol Theatre applauded their kids and, as soon as the formalities ended, rushed the bleachers to lavish them with congratulations and pride.

Everett Dawson was one of the students who received the scholarship and acceptance to the film school.

“I am gobsmacked. I was not expecting any of this. I was so panicked. I was sitting beside people who were also anxious, and we were all just shaking and sweaty,” Dawson said. “I am beyond thrilled.”

Dawson, who a teacher called “the heartbeat of the class” during the ceremony, said figuring out how to pay for post-secondary and maybe move to the west coast to pursue their career goals weighed heavily on him and his classmates.

“To have this wonderful gift — I’m so grateful, and all of us are so grateful,” he said.

He encouraged younger students to join the CREATE Program, and said the program became its own community. His friend, Shaun Murillo, agreed.

“The teachers support us 100 per cent. They’re always there for us, and we have each other. We can tell when someone’s down, and it just feels right to help each other out,” Murillo said. “So having everyone here, it just feels so crazy. Moving together as a unit.”

Paulina Fuentes said it meant a lot to her that she and all her friends were accepted into the film school together.

“Earlier I was shaking, and I was trying to smile,” she said of the time waiting to learn the news. “But we all got accepted, and I’m very thankful for that.”

Student Alex Gulewich was well-aware of the potential burden he’d had lifted from his future: “I can go and get my entire education now without going $30,000 into debt.”

Gulewich’s father, beaming, said: “I’m very proud. He does all the work himself; it’s way over my head.”

The program’s teachers were also basking in their students’ success.

“They’ve worked so hard, and just to see that, and it’s great just to see that they’re given the opportunity to pursue a career and what they love to do,” teacher Bernard Alibudbud said.

Alibudbud said the only downside is they’re forced to leave the city to do so, as Winnipeg lacks an animation or 3D visual effects program, which are focal points of the Sisler program.

The teacher said he felt confident his students were prepared to lift each other up and to make an impact in the industry.

“All these kids genuinely care for each other, and the big thing is they understand how things work. We work with so many industry partners, and we have so many projects and deadlines. So, they’re getting these real-world skills of deadlines and milestones,” Alibudbud said.

The scholarship was recently renamed the Heshka scholarship for digital innovation to honour longtime Sisler principal George Heshka, who died in March of 2021 and to whom one teacher paid tribute while choking back tears: “The program wouldn’t be here without him.”

Cody Sellar

Cody Sellar
Community Journalist

Cody Sellar is the reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review West. He is a lifelong Winnipegger. He is a journalist, writer, sleuth, sloth, reader of books and lover of terse biographies. Email him at or call him at 204-697-7206.

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