MV students go a long way with a helping hand

Valley high school students are back in class this month, the older ones in their last year at Madawaska Valley District High School (MVDHS) likely wondering what lies ahead. This article is for those students, their family members and supporters. The Current spoke to three MVDHS graduates for their take on life after high school, overcoming obstacles and how each found herself getting some help, sometimes from unexpected sources. Two of them left MVDHS in 2017 while another starts university this year. These young women demonstrate enthusiasm, determination and a positive outlook, saying their experience proves that help is available for those who ask for it. And they all agree that you owe it to yourself to really try hard. Above from left: Bailey Dombroski, Claudia Burchat, Mushana Schroeder

In 2017 Bailey Dombroski and Mushana Schroeder began degree programs at Queens University. Both of them benefited from the Wasmund Family Memorial Scholarship. Claudia Burchat starts at Trent University this fall, having done a fifth years at MVDHS after graduating in 2018. She received financial assistance from the Horatio Alger Association of Canada Canadian Scholar Award. See below for details and links about both awards.

Bailey Dombroski

bailey-dombroskiBailey (left) is in the third year of a Bachelor of Science program, with a major in Life Science, at Queens University. Despite a summer job in Algonquin Park for the past two years, her course focuses more on human life science. Graduates in this program often go into medicine, pharmacy or physio and usually require at least one more degree before starting work. Bailey is considering a career in public health.

Bailey has what you might call an accidental scholars award. She wasn’t sure what university she wanted although Queens was one option. She thinks in her time there MVDHS didn’t push university as much as big city schools would and her guidance counsellor discouraged her from applying for an award, saying her average wasn’t high enough. She submitted a general awards application anyway and at the last minute learned about the Wasmund Family Memorial Scholarship. Last minute? The deadline was the next day, so her mother, MV Deputy Clerk Gwen Dombroski, encouraged Bailey to complete the application and they drove to Kingston to submit it on time. Wasmund award recipients receive their tuition paid in full for each of the four years of an undergraduate degree. It is specific to Queens University students, but it’s worth investigating similar awards for the college or university you have in mind.

Bailey says, “It took a lot of stress off Mom and I both, and made my decision a lot easier to pick what school I was going to. I didn’t have to get a job in first or second year. [Without the award] my grades probably wouldn’t have been as good.” Not having to work part-time through the school year was “amazing. I joined clubs, I did intramural volleyball once a week. It just opened so many doors for other opportunities as I wasn’t focused on money all the time.”

Without planning for it, Bailey’s high school career had made her a good candidate for the award. She had participated in sports (volleyball), served on the student council, and was a member of the Link Crew helping Grade 9 students transition into high school.

Mushana Schroeder

mushana-schroederUnlike Bailey, Mushana (left) knew exactly where she wanted to go after MVDHS and she also was aware that going to Queens University meant she could apply for a Wasmund Family Memorial Scholars Award. This is because she knew that a previous MVDHS student had received an award two years earlier. So Mushana planned to apply for it, studied to keep her grades up and gained relevant experience through school and part-time work to demonstrate her initiative. She is now in third year of an Environmental Life Sciences program. She thinks she will probably do a Masters degree next and possibly go into medicine after that.

The Wasmund award means “Peace of mind,” says Mushana. “It means I can focus on doing the best I can with my schooling.” It also meant that instead of part-time work through the academic year, she could return to her summer job in the Madawaska Valley as a Visitors Centre attendant.

Claudia Burchat

claudia-burchatClaudia (left) is in the first year of an Environmental Forensics program at Trent University, a course that she says suits her analytical mind and lifelong interest in science. She has just completed a fifth year at MVDHS “re-learning how I learn” that was only possible once she had received a diagnosis of both her learning differences (LDs) — her family refuses to use the term “learning disabilities.” Claudia says she is a survivor of childhood domestic abuse that resulted in an anxiety disorder. She also was severely bullied in grade school but “with counselling I learned to move forward and be my own person.” Claudia acknowledges that LDs and mental health issues overlap. She says, “You have to put your mental health over everything. You can’t put your family first, you can’t put your friends first, you can’t put helping this person first – you have to put YOU first.” Her mother, Sylvia Burchat, says the Trent University Student Accessibility Service (SAS) advised Claudia, “Forget about your LDs, those are easy. We need to manage your anxiety because if we manage your anxiety everything else will fall into place.”

Facing adversity pays off

Claudia and her mother praised staff at MVDHS, Renfrew County District School Board (RCDSB) and Trent University for supporting her through the challenges presented by her LDs and her anxiety. From MVDHS Special Ed teacher Joanne Hartwig to math teacher Mr. Kingstone to retired teacher Paul Thompson (who tutored her in chemistry and physics), Claudia said, “My teachers very much had my back.” It took years to properly diagnose her LDs but RCDSB Special Education adviser Cheryl Barber eventually got them diagnosed as Irlen’s Syndrome and atypical dyslexia through testing done when she was 18. With the diagnoses, Barber could then source the right learning aids to deal with Claudia’s LDs. This meant that Trent University SAS department was ready when Claudia arrived.

Claudia says it takes courage to apply for awards and is grateful for the support she received at MVDHS. Hartwig encouraged her to apply for the Anastasia Kuzyk Memorial Award, given to a student who has achieved despite adversity. Claudia says, “It wasn’t for smarts, it was for personality – how close you are with family, why community is important to you.” Winning the first Kuzyk Award gave her the confidence to apply for the Horatio Alger Canadian Scholar Award. “Once I got the two, I was able to share more openly with the community about what I’ve been through.” Like Bailey, Claudia had used her leadership skills as a member of the Link Crew to support Grade 9 students, often those who had mental health or behavioural issues. After publicity about her awards, she found that students at MVDHS began to approach her for support and she has become more of an advocate.

What is the Wasmund Family Memorial Scholars Award?

Bert Wasmund, a principal of multinational engineering company Hatch Ltd., set up the fund in honour of his parents. He grew up in the Bancroft area, attended Queen’s University for undergraduate and master’s degrees before earning a doctorate from the University of Toronto. For his achievement in the mining industry he received the Order of Canada. The award website says recipients of the award must “demonstrate financial need, academic achievement and initiative. Candidates will have completed all of their secondary school education at, in order of priority, North Hastings High School in Bancroft, Madawaska Valley District High School in Barry’s Bay, Opeongo High School in Douglas or Renfrew Collegiate Institute in Renfrew, Ontario.”

Bailey says she didn’t know anyone other than Mushana who applied from MVDHS. The Wasmund website states four awards each valued at $32,000 ($8,000 x four years) will be given out next year and applications are due February 15, 2020. Click HERE for details of the Wasmund scholarship.   For Wasmund background information click HERE

Networking and support for Wasmund recipients

mushana-schroeder-bailey-dombroskiAward recipients are required to demonstrate continued academic progress. There is an annual formal dinner which present and past Wasmund recipients attend. (At left Mushana and Bailey ready for the formal event. Photo submitted) Bailey says, “It was a little intimidating – October, first year university, first year not at home … We felt out of our league a bit but it was really great.” They were excited to meet Bert Wasmund himself. Mushana says they also met a previous award winner who went on to do an engineering degree and now works for him at Hatch. At the first dinner they attended, they met the student from Bancroft who also won an award that year, and chatted with alumni award winners. She and Bailey agree that the networking through the dinners is also a great opportunity. Mushana says, “It’s also about making connections. The Wasmund people keep in touch and like to follow up with award recipients to see how you’re doing.”

What is the Horatio Alger Association of Canada Canadian Scholar Award?

The Horatio Alger website says 160 scholarships of $5,000 will be presented to students in 2020. Applicants must “be involved in co-curricular and community service activities, display integrity and perseverance in overcoming adversity,” maintain a good academic record and demonstrate financial need. The Horatio Alger application process is now open with a deadline of 5 p.m. on October 25 2019 for the Canadian scholar awards. Other types of awards are available. Click HERE to visit the Horatio Alger Canada website. 

The lesson?

You may think there’s no way you can afford to do further education after high school but these students have proven that’s a myth. They recommend asking for help if you can’t do the research yourself. There are loans, awards, bursaries available – you just have to apply. Above all, as Burchat says, “Just try.”


Claudia Burchat at Trent University (photo submitted)


  1. Eden Guidroz

    What a great, positive story. Thanks for writing this. Super stories about all 3 young women and so much info about how to access scholarships and such!

    Great for the community in many ways!
    Fantastic work!

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