A project featuring a dynamic experiential education initiative that is benefiting York University students and youth living in the Jane and Finch community is making some beautiful noise.
The New Opportunities for Innovative Student Engagement (NOISE) for Social Change project, supported by the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF), is led by project champion Uzo Anucha, professor and graduate program director in the School of Social Work in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS).
Uzo Anucha, professor and graduate program director in the School of Social Work
NOISE for Social Change brings together 40 youth fellows from Emery Collegiate Institute (a local high school) to the University to work with 40 Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and Master of Social Work (MSW) student fellows, and 20 social work alum and faculty in groups called “pods”.
Each pod designs and implements a community social action project. “The social action projects are the pod’s response to what they see in the community,” says Anucha. “The academic part of the project has social work students working through a directed reading course on critical youth work while the high-school youth fellows earn the 40 volunteer hours they require for their high school diploma.”
The pods are facilitated by nine Social Work Graduate Assistants. Working with such a large cohort of NOISE fellows would not have been possible, says Anucha, without the support of these very committed graduate assistants. The social action opportunities in NOISE differ from traditional service learning projects where students are seen as the ‘volunteers’ and youth as ‘recipients’.
NOISE offers an innovative approach to mentorship that prioritizes engagement, multi-directional learning and accountability among all participants in the pod. The project recognizes that youth, students, alumni and faculty within a pod contribute important skills and experiences and mutually benefit from the relationships that are established.
“When you offer engaged learning opportunities for youth that provide them with learning opportunities beyond classroom walls they do better in school,” says Anucha. “The postsecondary participation rate in the Jane and Finch community is much lower than the rest of Toronto and this is despite the fact that there is a university right in their neighbourhood.”
NOISE is working to change that trend by helping the youth fellows learn about the opportunities a postsecondary education can bring to their future.
The NOISE team hosted a drop-in day on postsecondary education in December for the youth fellows. “We talked about postsecondary education and looked at the different ways they could fund postsecondary education and how they could make it happen,” she says. “We are hoping that these young people are encouraged to pursue postsecondary education, whether it is at university, college or in an apprenticeship. But first, we want them to stay in school, do well and get their high-school diplomas so they can go onto different places.”
“The York social work students get to learn about the community from the perspective of the youth fellows, which is an experience with great value for them. One of the things I like about this project is that the [Ross] building is alive with these youth, they are coming into our space and it is bringing community into our space,” she says.
“They hold a lot of their meetings here and sometimes there are two or three pod meetings happening at the same time, so they are taking up space in our school, and that is a good thing!”
As part of this AIF project, Anucha and her team are developing and piloting a model that can be used for future experiential education projects in other units. One of the future goals for NOISE is to identify other possible ‘docking’ stations for NOISE pods in other units on campus.
NOISE fellows are working on reflections of their experiences and together with the social action projects, these discoveries will be celebrated in a NOISE learning festival on April 29th. “The learning festival will give pod fellows an opportunity to join with their families and the community to share their learning and their social action projects.”
Funding by the AIF has provided essential administrative support for the NOISE project but more importantly, the AIF has created a supportive environment that encourages faculty to explore innovative ways to engage students in learning.
For more information, click here to read the NOISE newsletter.