High school seniors

At the Agassiz Centre for Education (ACE) a high school senior isn't just a Grade 12 student any more.

This spring, three of the school's graduates will be great-grandmothers, and one will be almost 90 years old.

"I had always regretted that I didn't get my Grade 12," said Kay Eddison, an ACE grad who turns 90 in November, "and the opportunity came up so I thought, 'Well, this is just about my last chance,' and I went for it."

SCAN TO ACE-an alternate education school in the Fraser-Cascade school district- launched its High School Seniors program last fall.

Come June 19, Eddison will be among the first class of cap-and-gown-clad seniors to walk the stage with fellow ACE grads at Agassiz's Legion Hall.

The diploma she will have earned will be no honorary affair, but a legitimate Adult Dogwood Diploma.

Since the fall, Eddison and two fellow seniors, Adriana Peters and Maureen Baker, have worked through grad requirements in English, social studies, planning, work experience and dreaded math.

"Just discovering that I can do it, it gives me a little confidence," Eddison said. "We have a great teacher and he's encouraged us and made it easier for us by just saying, 'Don't give up.'"

A mother of two, grandmother of four and great-grandmother of seven, Eddison quit school after Grade 11 in the early 1940s.

"Times were tough," she said, "and, you know, you just maybe didn't think you were as well dressed as the next girl, so I decided to be smart and get a job."

She said she didn't apply herself as much as she should have back in high school and always regretted not graduating, so when ACE administrator Sandy Balascak came to her independent living residence to ask who might be interested in joining ACE's new program, she put up her hand-but not before her friend Peters did.

"[Adrianna] put up her hand, and so I put up mine," Eddison said. "I give her the blame for getting me into this. If I graduate, I'll give her the credit."

Eddison is now a straight-A student, with only math, her toughest course so far, standing between her and graduation. But she'll finish that too.

"I have to," she said. "I'd have to leave town forever if I didn't."

The seniors are a "net positive" influence on younger ACE students, many of whom have struggled in mainstream schools, according to Ray Steigvilas, the longtime alternate education teacher who has taken on the seniors.

"When they're there, the other students all seem like they're much more focused because they realize that if these older people are coming back to school, then it's really a worthwhile thing for them."

But the benefits go both ways according to Baker.

"They're just so fun," she said of her younger schoolmates. "I take my dog, Maggie, and she's our mascot. The kids take turns taking her for walks and fussing over her and she just loves it."

Baker, who turns 76 in May, first heard about ACE's seniors program through her granddaughter who graduated from the school last year.

Back in the mid-1950s, Baker had found school boring and home (with five siblings) crowded, so she dropped out after Grade 11 and went to work.

Going back in her 70s has been good for her brain, she said.

"My mind is actually getting better," she said. "I had a small stroke a couple years ago, and I was worried about my short-term memory loss, but it's coming back. It's helping me a lot."

The academic year has been full of challenges for the three seniors, but as grad draws near, finding room for family members who want to cheer them on at convocation might yet be the biggest.

"They're so proud of me. They'd all like to come," Eddi-son said.

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