Beginning university away from the support of family can be difficult for anyone.
However, the challenges are much more acute when the student is a crown ward, according to Kari Stewart, Renison’s marketing and communications director, who has worked on a committee for crown wards.
Through a program that is the first of its kind in Canada, Renison is looking to make that transition easier starting in the Fall 2016 term by providing the residence experience for up to two crown wards.
The program, which has yet to be named, is entirely funded by donors and will cover the room and meal costs for one or two first-year crown ward students living in Renison, which usually costs $10,500. Renison has secured the funding for one student, and is awaiting a decision from the Town and Gown organization regarding funds for a second student.
A crown ward is a youth whose legal guardianship is under the responsibility of the government. Crown wards are less likely than their peers to attend post-secondary education, and Stewart said they face unique challenges throughout their degree.
“A lot of them are just a couple of years behind their peers academically because of whatever trauma happened in their life …. it’s just a bit of a harder path to get there.”
Stewart said residence life provides certain supports that a student doesn’t get when living on their own. In addition to room and board, she said this program includes a full time social worker, a chaplain, dons, and Living Learning Communities for social development students and varsity athletes.
“When somebody’s in crisis, they don’t have to wait a week and a half to get an appointment somewhere,” Stewart said. “Coming into this atmosphere, it’s more than just having a place to live; it’s having a supportive place to live.”
The program is only available for first-year students, and only during their first year. According to Caroline Tanswell, director of institutional advancement at Renison, the student will continue to have access to these supports — other than dons — if they move out of residence in second year.
While crown wards receive free tuition and a stipend to help support them during their university education, Tanswell said that for most, staying in university is often out of reach.
“That’s what prompted us to contact Family and Children’s Services and say … ‘can we partner together?’”
Family and Children’s Services of the Waterloo Region is the government agency responsible for crown wards in Waterloo. The agency is responsible for informing crown wards about the opportunity for residence at Renison, and for providing Renison with the names of any crown wards accepted to the university who have selected Renison as their first choice for residence.
“We will know who the crown wards are who are coming, so we’ll have a link to Family and Children’s Services department … so we can ensure that they can have a spot in the residence,” Transwell said.
Renison has a pre-existing relationship with the agency, since students in social development studies and social work programs often have work placements there.
Tanswell and Stewart do not expect the number of crown ward applicants for Renison to exceed the number of available free rooms; however, if this does occur, they say Renison will consult with Family and Children’s Services and Renison’s residence director to determine a solution. Tanswell expects that more crown wards may apply to the University of Waterloo in the future because of this program. Since the program is funded by donation, its continuity and expansion will be dependent on donors.