Toronto Program Helps Poor Students With Educational Obstacles

The Models Schools for Inner Cities program has helped bridge community and several elementary schools in Toronto. The program is a grassroots effort to even the playing field in some of the city’s poorer areas.
The grassroots program, Inner City Advisory Committee (ICAC), has helped children with not only educational goals but by providing some basic health needs. Children in the schools that are in the program last year had vision and hearing tests for their students. The results were profound. Some of the children could not see the blackboard, some could not hear their teachers. The program not only tested but then helped parents obtain corrective surgeries, glasses and hearing aids for their children. The program is funded through The Sprott Asset Management Gift of Sight and Sound program in partnership with the Toronto Foundation for Student Success, Wal-Mart Canada and The Canadian Hearing Society. this program will carry over to 50 inner city schools again in September.

The program has shown that it works but it also faces an uphill battle as funding can be hard to obtain. It is asking for $8.5 million to be dedicated in the TDSB budget to maintain the Model Schools for Inner Cities program, $1.0 million be added to the MSIC budget to allow the support of up to 24 model middle schools and $2.5 million be added to expand the program to serve up to 30 secondary schools.

Seven schools in Toronto’s inner city are model schools, Firgrove, Nelson Mandela Park PS, Willow Park, Forest Manor, George Webster, Kingsview Village Jr. and Bala Avenue Community School. These schools all have one common thread, students who live in poverty attend.

As the Toronto School Board site states:

“This is our collective effort as communities, as a Board and as individuals to level the playing field for all our children,” said Sheila Cary-Meagher, TDSB Trustee for Ward 16 and Chair of the Model Schools for Inner Cities Task Force. “By working together with students, families, schools and the community, we can make a real difference in the lives of our children in poverty.”

The program started in November 2006 providing stability and a safe haven for the students. By developing partnerships with higher education institutions the education of the students have been able to provide support for the students. Every teacher has a teacher candidate from York University at one of the schools. One of the programs is a Saturday arts program with art and music.

Children are given snacks and lunches helping families even more.

Parent Michael Corniffe whose daughter attends Forest Manor feels his involvement is important. “Getting involved in this type of program is fantastic. It’s really beneficial to the kids in the school and in the community. The school is very dedicated to its parents.”

The program is not just for the students but their parents as well. There are monthly parent workshops. This month the program explores School Profiles and Principal/VP role in parent engagement at the school level.

One school in the program is George Webster ES. Principle Nancy Steinhauer discussed the benefits of being a model school: “The program has definitely helped my school. We have parental involvement and more community agencies now as a result of the program. Today some of the student are in fact out with community support workers getting glasses as part of the vision testing.”

The funding that the program provides really does level the playing field for Steinhauer’s students. The classes have all had opportunities to go on three field trips this year that are relevant to their curriculum. In a school that has a high poverty population getting funding for these types of events is rare. Fund raisers can only bring in what the community can afford, without the funding from the school board for Model Schools the children would not be getting as many of these precious memories.

The children are feeling safer in their school in just two years. 71 per cent of the students have said that they like going to school compared to 61% before the program. School spirit is at 80% now.

Parents have the resource of after school programs for their children at George Webster. 51% of the children no longer go straight home from school now, instead they are involved in safe and educational after school programing that doesn’t end until 6:15 p.m. each evening. In an area where there isn’t a close community center that’s a godsend.

This summer the children of the school will have a preschool program. By teaching skills earlier the kids will be able to thrive when they enter school. That fits in with the school’s goals of being a heart of the community. Steinhauer wants her parents to feel safe and welcome at her school.

Academically it’s early in the stages as to how much of an improvement there has been. The testing though is showing some very positive results. Before the program reading tests showed students below grade level. That has changed — this year the kids were on grade level or above at the start of the year.

Perhaps the most positive sign though is the lack of school suspensions this year. Not one children has had to be disciplined in that way.

Parents also are more involved with their children’s education at George Webster. Whether it is reading to their children from books in their first language or attending parent meetings the involvement has increased.

Last week Digital Journal talked with Cassie Bell, Inner City Project Coordinator. At that time she stressed how important the funding is for this program. Each year ICAC has to fight hard for the next year’s funding budget. The program has to as Ms. Bell says “rob Peter to pay Paul.”

“At what part do we stop yakking and get to work.”

It’s a positive program that is working for the schools involved. Hopefully funding will continue and the program will grow. Each school in Toronto deserves to be a model school, each student deserves the very best education that the community can provide.

A video of the program is located here.

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