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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Youth Force
Student finds her niche through OYAP

By Linda White
Special to The Toronto Sun

Helping a child develop and feel special are among the reasons why Ferzana Elahi wanted to become an early childhood educator. Along the way, she learned just how much the children would teach her and how special they would make her feel.

"I can be tired when I get to work, but all it takes is one child to hug me and I feel just wonderful," says Ferzana Elahi, a recent graduate of Erindale Secondary School in Mississauga.

"I was away for a few days writing exams, and when I returned, I had one girl grabbing onto my leg and another jumping onto my back. It was crazy, but it was really nice. The kids make you feel welcome and appreciated."
"I discovered how much I love working with kids," says apprentice Ferzana Elahi.

Just a few months ago, Elahi had no direction. When a teacher suggested she complete a co-op placement in the daycare centre located at her high school, she figured she had nothing to lose.

"Before my co-op placement, I had no clue about what I was going to do," says Elahi, 18. "The first week answered all my questions about my future. The whole environment was great and I discovered how much I love working with kids."

The experience convinced Elahi to pursue a career as an early childhood educator. She registered with the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), which allowed her to earn credits towards her high school diploma, which she completed in June. At the same time, the hours she works at the day-care centre are put towards certification as an early childhood educator.

Elahi signed on with OYAP and began her apprenticeship at West Park Day Care Centre in Mississauga.

"You learn about what each child likes and dislikes. You become attached to them really quickly," she says. "They're so open and they depend on you."

Her employer recognizes the benefits of OYAP. "It's important to provide students with learning experiences," says supervisor/director Sylvia Vieira. "It will help them decide if they really want a career in (early childhood education)."

Elahi helps with activities that develop creative, fine motor and gross motor skills. She's also involved in lunch supervision and washroom routines and impressed her employer enough to land a summer job.

"Ferzana is getting a real feel for it," Vieira says. "She's a very positive girl, always smiling and warm to the children."

Making important contributions makes a student feel valued, says Gloria Tomlinson, co-op teacher at Erindale. "Some kids who don't do well in school just thrive in a career they love," she says.

"They become part of a team and most want to be there...Take Ferzana, for instance. She went in during the worst storm of the winter, even though she didn't have to. She loves it."

Exploring a trade is worthwhile, even if a student decide it's not for them.

"Some will find out they don't want to follow that career for the rest of their lives. That gives them a chance to explore other careers while they're still young," Tomlinson says.

"At the same time, they've become more mature and more responsible because of their experience."

(Linda White is a freelance writer based in Brooklin, Ont. and can be reached at

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