Named after a beloved teacher and course developer at Virtual High School, the John Smallwood Bursary is awarded to a deserving Canadian student of any age based on financial need and academic goals. Given twelves times per calendar year, the bursary covers the full tuition cost of a standard VHS course. This month we’re checking out how Ally Makher, a mature student from Alberta, is getting along in the SBI4U course she funded using the John Smallwood Bursary!

Originally from Ukraine, Ally moved around quite a bit before settling in Calgary, Alberta in her early 30s. As a result of her desire to help people, Ally plans to enter a Primary Care Paramedic Program once she has completed the necessary high school prerequisites, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training, and Basic Life Support (BLS) certification. The goal is to become a practicing paramedic in Western Canada in the next 5 years, and we have no doubt that she’ll achieve that dream with her exceptional dedication and perseverance!

“COVID hit right after I decided to become a paramedic. But despite this being a period of uncertainty and financial and emotional hardship (making me want to give up many, many times), it also ended up being a time where I found myself recommitting to my goal of becoming a paramedic—and that’s a source of pride for me. The decision to contribute to my community in a meaningful way greatly outweighs any personal doubt and hardship on my part.”

Having originally attended university to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, Ally didn’t need any science prerequisites at the time. Now that she’s pursuing a paramedic program at college, Ally found that she not only needed to take science courses but that she actually enjoys them too! She loves learning about chemistry, biology, the innerworkings of the human body, and where we all came from.

In order to complete her prerequisite courses, Ally started looking for a schooling option that could accommodate her already busy lifestyle. After learning that Virtual High School is inspected by the Ontario Ministry of Education and offers unparalleled flexibility, she was hooked! Now a seasoned VHS pro, she has completed several courses already, but needed a little extra financial support during the pandemic:

“Getting the bursary helped me financially a great deal. It also made me feel like VHS has recognized my needs and offered their support because they found my story (and everything I’ve been dealing with personally) compelling. That made me feel like people will offer help when you need it most.”

Having dealt with some learning difficulties in traditional school settings, Ally has found that VHS is better suited to her style of learning:

“I just didn’t learn the way others did, and it took me a while to find an effective way to retain new information. VHS has given me the flexibility to go over the material as often and as thoroughly as I need. I learn visually, and I usually make colourful notes and try to connect all the pieces to fit one big picture. The teachers were always responsive and gave good feedback, and with that in mind, my grades would get increasingly better throughout the course.”

In her spare time, Ally likes to read, write, and listen to all genres of music. She’s recently become interested in philosophy and space as well. A multilingual whiz, she can also speak English, Russian, Hebrew, and a little French! When asked to describe her role model, Ally points to her grandfather (cue the warm, fuzzy feelings):

“He was the most virtuous person I’ve ever met—one of those rare people that always does the right thing without second-guessing his decision. He taught me how to reason, how to play chess, and how to question everything. I miss him.”

It’s quite clear to us that Ally has inherited all of her grandfather’s tenacity, virtue, and work ethic. We’re so honoured to have a student like Ally Makher representing the John Smallwood Bursary!

To learn more about the John Smallwood Bursary and how you can apply, visit the Awards & Bursaries page on our website.