More than 100 Grade 9 students participated in the high school preparatory summer program, earning a high-school credit focused on literacy, numeracy and life skills. The program, which was hosted by York University’s Faculty of Education, is a collaborative initiative involving the University, the York University Faculty Association (YUFA) and the Jays Care Foundation, in partnership with the Toronto District School Board.
“We had an absolutely incredible time with the more than 100 Grade 9 students, 25 mentors and 30 volunteers participating in the program this summer,” said Chris Penrose, executive director of SBL. “There are so many external factors that students from Jane and Finch face outside of the classroom that affects their immediate and future learning, one of them being a lack of exposure to postsecondary institutions. Our summer program helps to shrink this ‘achievement gap’ in education by bringing youth from the community to York U to be exposed to the postsecondary environment, and empowering youth (who have often been overlooked as leaders) in mentorship roles.
“In the long run, two of the main objectives of our work are to support policy updates that will provide the types of supports and programming options to students facing similar barriers across the system, and to have the young people that have come up through the program take over the leadership of the organization,” added Penrose.
Students spent their mornings working in small classes where they had the additional support of youth mentors from Westview Centennial, a local high school. Each afternoon, they made the most of being on campus, participating in arts activities, sports, recreation and music in different venues at the University. Transportation to and from the community, as well as breakfast and lunch, were included at no cost to the students.
“My classroom experience was great! We didn’t just learn math, we learned math in a fun way,” said Grade 9 student Gayathiri Rathakone. “The teachers made what we learned in the program fun and interesting and I made a bunch of new friendships that will last a lifetime.”
Since its inception in 2010, SBL has made a positive impact on the lives of hundreds of children who live in the Jane and Finch community. “One of the main reasons for our success has been the ongoing support that we have received from the Faculty of Education and in particular Professor Don Dippo,” said Penrose. “Professor Dippo has been there from the very beginning, when we first began having conversations about the major gaps in the education of youth in Jane and Finch with the community and local schools back in 2005. Without question he has been one of the most dedicated and committed supporters of this work, offering insight and helping us to navigate the university structure in order to deliver our program at York.”
“SBL at York is a good example of what it means to be a community-engaged university,” said Dippo. “Youth, their families, community-based organizations and the university all share in the benefits of this collaborative effort.”
“At the end of the day, education is in the lifeblood of all that we do at SBL,” said Penrose. “It’s not just education in the sense of learning and credentials, but education from the perspective of ownership and empowerment. Our programming and supports are designed to travel along the journey with youth in the community while fostering the conditions that they need to see education as the process of discovering and tapping into potential, rather than something that just happens to them.”
For more information, visit the Success Beyond Limits website.