The Value of Education: Georgette Arcand's Path Back to Post-Secondary
Robert Frost has a poem that talks about two roads diverging in a yellow woods, and how sorry he was he could not travel both. What happens when you choose a path and later wish you made a different choice? Youth worker Georgette Arcand decided to get a jump start on her career instead of going straight to school, a choice she later regretted. The path back is leading her back into post-secondary.
From Mistawasis First Nation, Arcand grew up in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, in a large family of 12 and she’s learned firsthand how important education and having a degree really is. When informal learning, on the job training and an ability to figure it out isn’t universally recognized as being enough for advancement, Arcand found not having completed a degree to be a real challenge. That’s why as a youth worker with 17 years experience, she’s going back to school to create a better life for her family.
Arcand has always worked with kids through nonprofit organizations. Her schooling was originally geared towards computers and design, not community work, and at this point the skills she learned are obsolete since technology has changed so much. She didn’t stay in the computing field because she found something she loved even more than she loved computers: working in community with children and youth.
At 18 she took a position as a youth worker and stayed for 17 years. “When it was time and the director actually was retiring I couldn't take that position because I didn't have a degree, which is sad because I can do that job with my eyes closed. I have all the skills. I can do all that. Not having that paper, that degree is a big barrier in my life,” she explains.
Now she’s working to overcome the degree requirement that has held her back so she can be better positioned to provide a sustainable, healthy, happy life for her two young children. It’s something she wished she did sooner. At the entry level, she enjoyed having money but now sees the opportunity cost of not having completed her schooling.
Arcand loves her job, but is looking forward to being able to advance in her career and move out of her low income bracket into a leadership role. “I am a very good leader but not having my full education is a barrier for myself,” she admits. It’s a lesson she’s passing onto her children so they can make different choices for themselves.
Thinking about her life now, if she could give advice to her younger self, it would be “Go to school. The money will be there when you're done. You'll survive. Just do it. Get it done while you can, while you're young.” She’s finding she doesn’t have as much energy to stay up late studying compared to when she was younger and that it’s harder to be going back to school at her age. She would have rather gone without as much money when she was younger and studied than be trying to do it now.
Her advice for students considering leaving their home community to pursue work or school is about relationships. “My advice would be to always keep that connection with their home. You can get so lost in transitioning from on reserve/off reserve communities, back into a bigger city and losing that support and that family life. I feel that it's always important to stay connected to your home, your parents or siblings, because that's where your support is going to come from. It might not be visual, but it's always going to be there. They're always going to be behind you. Always stay connected to your home,” she advises.
In addition to her career and parenting responsibilities, she’s her father’s caregiver and he needs 24 hour care. In order to take care of herself with all of these commitments, she likes to take time to relax outside and go out once a week to play bingo or go for a drive with her kids. That connection to home, family and intergenerational care is driving her towards securing a brighter future for tomorrow.
Like in Frost’s poem, you can only take one path at a time. But if you find you wish you had taken a different path, you can always go back and try again. For Georgette Arcand, that path is going to lead to a degree, the hope of access to the leadership roles she longs for at work, and a more sustainable way of living at home. Georgette Arcand, youth worker, mom, daughter and leader on the rise adds the title “student to her resume”, and with it more opportunities in her life.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.