Turning Adversity into Success—and Post-secondary!

By balancing her time between searching for a home, living in a shelter environment, and juggling every-day life activities,
Maria A. recently completed her grade 12 education at Vista Virtual School and was awarded a $25,000 scholarship through Education Matters.

Education Matters is a Calgary-based program that understands the importance of education. Its main goal is to open the doors so individuals have access to post-secondary learning. Maria earned the Kermet Archibald & Jacob Van den Brink Entrance Bursary.

“If I couldn’t find a stable place, my grades would suffer…if I couldn’t maintain my grades, my financial support from the government would stop,” she said. “I was struggling to keep my head above water. Thankfully, I somehow was able to juggle things ok enough that it worked out.”

With all this on her mind, it had her living in a non-typical environment. This put a lot of pressure on her to balance all of these challenges, and it seemed like there wasn’t enough time in the day. If one area didn’t pull through, the rest would also drag her down, but Maria found a way.

“Online students are usually working in their own homes, and are required to manage their studies with personal life much more than when in the physical classroom. This makes it extremely important to focus on your studies—especially for students who have challenging academic and career goals—like Maria does,” says Vista Virtual School (VVS) science teacher, Simran Bhatia. “Online learning teaches students how to time-manage, balance school and life, self-regulate, and motivate more rigorously than traditional schooling.”

Her dedication and desire to succeed, along with the ability to take classes through distance learning—Maria was faced with a number of challenges, including overcoming the effects of a family moving from the Sudan to escape genocide, and having that family choose to interrupt their education. If that wasn’t hard enough, Maria A. also had to deal with securing housing, limited family support, and maintaining a livable income—all while trying to maintain good grades and the pursuit of higher learning.

“Not having familial support, I had to leave home because my academic pursuits weren’t encouraged,” she says. “I was struggling to keep my head above water in trying to have everything together.”

Maria was encouraged by her teachers to apply (for the scholarship). And in preparing for this, she looked at finding a career path that includes an engineering degree and her focus towards helping others in some way. She put in a lot of hard work to achieve the scholarship requirements and to map out her future.

This hard work paid off, as she both achieved the necessary entrance grades, and wrote an essay describing the impact the funding for their post-secondary education will make on their life. The essay helped her figure out where to focus her efforts as she continues her education. 

“It’s kinda cheesy, but true,” she says. “I want to volunteer and help others out, get involved in clubs, and learn about all the different opportunities to use my degree to help the world in some way.”

Now, this has translated into further education and the recognition of hard work completed. 

“Maria was the epitome of a hard-working and diligent student,” says Bhatia. “She was very focused on her long-term goal—acceptance into engineering—and this was clear in the way she handled her studies in Chemistry 30. Maria did not leave any stone unturned when it came to preparing for her exams, and her focus showed in the results. Maria also wrote her diploma exam in April and again in June, even though she had other courses to complete by June, which showed how dedicated she was to making sure she did her absolute best in this course.”

Because she could focus on pressing needs such as housing, Maria was able to find the right time to complete her courses and qualify for the scholarship.

“There wasn’t required attendance, so that helped alleviate stress when I was looking for housing—as being in a physical classroom would take away time from looking at houses. But I was able to maintain my grades because of this flexibility,” she says. “VVS helped me prepare for success because it simulates an environment similar to post-secondary…where you are more in charge of your grades [and learning]. I learned time management, goal management, and good study habits.”

With that hard work, she now doesn’t have to worry about how to pay for her education.

“I feel like the biggest weight and burden was lifted off my shoulders,” she says. “Coming from a family that had to stop pursuing their education to escape the genocide in the Sudan, and being the only daughter in a household that rarely encouraged education, I didn’t think I would ever have the financial means to pay [for university].

“I didn’t even realize I learn best by myself. It made me take initiative in my courses—it was rewarding,” she says. “I liked how flexible online learning is with my schedule—I can do [my coursework] during the morning, afternoon or midnight.”

Another key to her success was building a community outside of her family. That included VVS teachers, mentorship programs and counselling. 

“Without that outside support system and network, it would have been even more challenging, and I don’t know if I would be where I am today without those who supported me,” she says. “I had to find the discipline to push through everything and be nicer to myself [while following a plan]—if I wasn’t strict on myself to get X number things done by a certain day, it would have set me back quite a bit. But I also learned to cut myself some slack.

“I’m extremely thankful for everyone at VVS who has helped me.”

VVS is extremely proud of Maria winning this scholarship and her obtaining the means to pursue her dream of post-secondary learning!

“Maria had many personal challenges to overcome in her life while she was in this course. She didn’t talk about these often, but it was evident from our Skype sessions that Maria had to stay in a youth shelter for some time,” says Bhatia. “She was not living at home, and it wasn’t until she had secured her full scholarship that Maria moved out and found her own apartment. Seeing her work and study harder than most students while she was trying to manage her own personal life challenges, was extremely inspiring. I genuinely wish her the best in her studies next year—she fully deserves it!

This award definitely has a huge effect on Maria’s future. 

“Receiving this scholarship changed everything for me in life. First of all, I can go to university,” she exclaimed! “I also learned that although life may be really terrible sometimes, I can still find a way to pursue my passions.”

Posted on: August 14th, 2019