Sarah portrait in Health and Science Centre

Creating a safe space to learn and thrive

April 12, 2023
Author: Jenn McGarrigle

Sarah McClelland shares her story

Sarah McClelland dreams of being “that” teacher. The one that students remember long after they graduate. The one that provides a safe place to study and whose classroom is also a fun lunchtime hangout spot.

The first-year Bachelor of Education student had a couple of those teachers when she was in school. It meant the world to her because she didn’t have the same support network that many other students have. That’s because Sarah grew up in and out of foster care before getting adopted at age 14 by a family who went to the same church she did growing up.

“It’s my big dream to help people and be there for others because that’s what I wanted when I was a student,” she says. “I didn’t have any financial stability as a kid, we were moving every six to nine months. School was my safe place. It’s my passion to be that teacher that students remember.”

Going to post-secondary seemed like only a dream for Sarah, until her social worker told her about the BC Provincial Tuition Waiver Program. This provincial program waives tuition for students who were former youth in care.

“It’s something I never thought I’d do based on my past. I’m the first person in my family to go to post-secondary and one of the only ones to graduate from high school,” she says. “My adoptive parents are both social workers who went to VIU. I was really scared to come here, but my adoptive mom gave me the layout and some tricks she remembered from her time here.”

Recognizing that simply waiving tuition is not enough, VIU works with community partners and donors to generate extra supports to help students, as Sarah soon found out. When she was applying, Angela Meneghetti, VIU’s Financial Aid Access Specialist, helped her fill out the forms. She also helped Sarah access funding through VIU’s tuition waiver emergency fund when she faced some unexpected living expenses.

“It put me in a comfortable place, allowing me to focus on school,” she says.

For Angela, providing this kind of support is vital.

“Former youth in care often enter the post-secondary realm with little to no financial resources and zero support from family or friends, making post-secondary education difficult to attain right from the beginning,” she says. “I have had the pleasure of working alongside Sarah as she navigated the complexities of post-secondary with a high level of grit, confidence and optimism. I am honoured to be one of Sarah’s trusted support people to whom she can turn in times of stress and happiness as she, and many other tuition waiver students, pursue their educational goals.”

A few months in, Sarah found herself figuring things out and making friends faster than she ever could have imagined.

“What I wished I’d known before I came is how many supports there are. My impression of university was that you had to work hard and do it all yourself, then Angela reached out and let me know about all the resources here to support me, and that she was here to give me advice if I needed it,” she says. “You realize how many people are rooting for you. The friend group I’ve made here, I feel like I’ve known them forever. They have helped create a safe environment at school. And I’m learning a lot, especially about myself. Who I am and what I want to see in myself when I’m in the position I want to be in.”

Once she graduates, Sarah plans to start working right away as a high school history teacher. The first thing she’ll do when she’s saved up enough money is buy her own house.

“I’ve always wanted a place I can call home and not have to worry about that place going away,” she explains. “When I have kids, I want them to have that place, that home they know won’t go away.”

About the Tuition Waiver Program

The Provincial Tuition Waiver Program supports BC students who are former youth in care by providing tuition and mandatory fee waivers while attending an eligible BC post-secondary institution. This program was recently expanded to include former youth in care in the province of all ages.

Learn more

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