York and Toronto District School Board team up to help at-risk kids

A new project designed to improve the performance of marginalized students by focusing on their particular interests and needs is being developed by York University and the Toronto District School Board (TDSB).

The Staff Development, Research and Innovation Project, which will begin this fall in four TDSB schools initially, will include professional development for teachers about inclusiveness in the curriculum and classroom; mentoring and achievement counselling for students; discussion groups and other measures designed to engage parents; programs that will link teachers with community groups in the areas they serve; and research to identify what is working, and how to share that knowledge with other schools.

Left: Carl James

The agreement to undertake the three-year project in an elementary school, two middle schools and a high school was signed recently, following months of discussion prompted by the release of a TDSB report, "Improving Success for Black Students". The focus is on inclusion, says Faculty of Education Professor Carl James, York’s lead coordinator on the project.

"The project is an attempt to respond to the claim that the curriculum doesn’t meet the needs of some students. So we’re looking at how to structure curriculum to bring in the interests of marginalized students, blacks or South Asians, for example," says James, who has taken a lead role in York’s urban education program for teacher candidates since 1993. "Whatever the subject, math, science, history, English, teachers should be paying attention to the contributions of Africans and Asians as well as the Europeans. In teaching history, for instance, we shouldn’t just reference Europeans’ role in the development of Canada, but importantly, the role of Aboriginal peoples."

Research shows that mentoring students and providing academic support contributes significantly to improving academic outcomes, and York is already involved with a number of successful mentoring projects in the Jane-Finch area. Teacher candidates and other students at York will be building on this mentoring effort, while teachers and graduate students collect data that will be used to improve curriculum.

Parents and their children will be invited to a number of evening sessions at the schools, where they will be encouraged to speak about topics such as homework, discipline, school policy, transitions to high school, nutrition, students’ performance and educational services. In addition, teachers and teacher candidates, as well as school administrators, will go into the community to develop partnerships with agencies and organizations that work with their students – an effort to break down cultural barriers and cultivate relationships with the community.

For more information, contact Carl James at cjames@edu.yorku.ca.