Experiential education research shows community benefits from University grants

York University Bachelor of Social Work students recently undertook an experiential education research project that shows small investments into the community by the University have substantial positive effects.

The students, enrolled in Professor Wendy McGuire’s winter 2017 course Foundations of Social Work Research, teamed up with the York University Faculty Association (YUFA) co-chairs Natalie Coulter and Ray Rogers to carry out the research.

The research explored how YUFA Community Project (CP) funds were used between 2010 and 2017 to fulfill its three-pronged mandate to: create alliances on social justice issues through community outreach and political action; facilitate collaborative research and advocacy to improve YUFA-community partnerships; and, reduce barriers to higher education.

Success Beyond Limits’ Unity barbecue in 2015

YUFA CP supports collaborative projects with academic and community networks on campus and in the Black Creek/Jane-Finch community. A standing committee of the executive was established in 2004 to oversee these projects, and funding is distributed through small grants of $1,500 and less to numerous community groups on and off campus, and larger grants of over $1,500 to support a smaller number of large projects

Students were broken up into two research teams to analyze annual reports of community groups that were recipients of small grants and large grants. The small grant research team (Andrea Moclair, Ashley Sukhdeo, Ishi Wang, Jadyn Houle, Nicole Castillo, and Pamela Nash) also conducted a survey with the community groups; and, the large grant research team (Eva Cheung, Shaniece Clarke, Andrea Luciani and Angiemyr Villar) carried out eight interviews with program directors and past program participants.

Researchers analyzing small grants found a total of $64,500 was disbursed to 29 organizations for 61 funding requests from 2010 to 2017. Further to that, semi-structured surveys with six of the top participating groups – Black History Month, Black Daddies Club, Jane and Finch Community Ministry, Regenesis York, The Real Sun, and Walk for Excellence – revealed the small grants enabled groups to hold many events, mobilize community members, celebrate achievements and fight for social change.

Success Beyond Limits group photo

For example, the Black Daddies Club used YUFA CP funds to support three separate causes. They ran community discussion called Breaking Bread throughout Toronto, held a family picnic barbecue, and helped with events for a course with Urban Alliance at York University. The contact from the Black Daddies Club said the funding helps to improve the work that is already being done by the agency, by increasing community engagement and allowing community members to share their individual stories.

While small grants were used to support YUFA CP’s first two mandates – community outreach and political advocacy and research and advocacy – larger grants went primarily towards improving access to post-secondary education at York University for Jane-Finch youth.

Researchers investigating the large grants found that 12 organizations received funds (more than $1,500) for a total of $440,124 from 2010 to 2017. The largest amounts went towards the Transition Year Program (36 per cent), Success Beyond Limits (25 per cent), the Toronto District School Board (11 per cent) and Faculty of Education, York University (9 per cent).

The Transition Year Program (TYP) at York University is a full-year program for youth 19-plus who have experienced financial and other barriers to attending university. Beginning even earlier to address potential barriers to higher education, Success Beyond Limits (SBL) Education Program is a six-week summer program and after-school academic enrichment program that runs throughout the school year to support successful transitions from middle school to high school, and Readers 2 Leaders, a literacy enrichment and leadership program for students in grades 9 and 10.

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and Faculty of Education have supported Readers 2 Leaders and the Advanced Credit Experience (ACE) Program, in which Grade 12 students from three Jane-Finch high schools carry out a work-study position at York, complete a first-year university philosophy course, and receive a tuition bursary for their first year of study.

Student researchers conducted interviews with eight community program directors and past program participants from TYP, SBL, TDSB, Promoting Education and Community Health (PEACH) and Jane Finch Action Against Poverty (JFAAP), and found that the funding facilitated student success in several ways.

JFAAP march

According to participants, the programs helped to financially support students, helped to prepare students for future education, helped to present opportunities to students and improved graduations rates, grade-point averages and lowered absenteeism in high school.

In 2017, the funding of YUFA CP shifted from YUFA core funding and a $2-levy on YUFA member paycheques, to being supported by the YUFA Trust and Foundation. In this new funding model, YUFA CP is excited to continue to support projects in the community, and to strengthen its relationship to the Jane-Finch community, while maintaining YUFA’s commitment to social unionism.