Just over 100 young people in the city’s west end are getting a high school head start. They will enter Westview Centennial Secondary School in September with a credit they earned from a six-week summer program at York University’s Osgoode Hall.
In its fourth year, the Success Beyond Limits (SBL) education program is designed to improve educational outcomes, expand possibilities and provide support for youth in the Jane & Finch community.
A total of 105 Brookview, Oakdale Park and Beverley Heights Middle School Grade Eight students are enrolled in the program that started earlier this month and ends on August 7 with a graduation ceremony.
“The purpose of this initiative is to help young people successfully transition to high school,” said program manager Kaneka Watkins, who has lived in the community since 2000 when she moved from Vancouver to attend York University. “A high level of students are dropping out of school as early as in Grade Nine. Many of them are transfer students who did not pass Grade Eight but were still placed in Grade Nine. Through this program, we are attempting to get to those students and provide them with the academic and social support that would help them with the transition.”
Buses pick up the students each day at 8:30 a.m. at Brookview, Oakdale Park and Firgrove Public Schools and return at approximately 4:30 p.m.
During the morning sessions, the students are taught English, Math and Life Skills. In the afternoons, they are exposed to myriad enrichment and sports activities, including dancing, drumming and swimming.
A total of 25 Westview Grade 11 and 12 students are attached to the program as tutors and mentors while there are eight teachers.
“I think one of the reasons why this program has been so successful is that the teachers and mentors are primarily from this community, they reflect the students’ backgrounds and the curriculum is culturally relevant,” said Watkins, who has a Master’s degree in Education. “Through the curriculum that also includes hip-hop, we get the young people to analyze and even dissect what is happening in their own communities and in their own lives.”
The three middle schools were chosen because the majority of their students enroll at Westview where SBL has a youth space.
“Continuity was critical,” said Watkins. “When they enter Grade Nine, we are there to help with their orientation and the students who mentored them during the summer provide them with tours of the school and are there to answer any questions they may have and would feel comfortable asking a fellow student. We also meet with students and teachers, co-ordinate referrals and resources for the young people and address any needs as they arise.”
The school day support, staffed by four full-time employees, is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the school year.
Denise Campbell, who was raised in the Jane-Falstaff community, said the program benefits are enormous.
“I grew up with a single mom and I know the challenges that students and their families face in these disadvantaged communities,” said Campbell, who is a mentor and part of the support staff. “I wish there was a program like this in my time.”
The recipient of a full basketball scholarship to Statefair Community College in Missouri where she spent 18 months, Campbell graduated from York University with honours in sociology.
The SBL program is an extension of a model that was first piloted in the summer of 2006 in response to the high suspension and drop-out rate of students in the Jane & Finch community.
The program funders include Jays Care Foundation, United Way of Toronto, York University Faculty Association Community Projects and private donors.