Poverty is an issue politicians like to debate, pundits cluck their tongues over, and that everyone agrees is kinda crummy, but pretty overwhelming. While debates, discussions and campaigns aren’t bad things, they don’t always result in a lot of concrete solutions. So what do we do about a complex issue like poverty?
We find a complex solution.
Pathways To Education is a program that started in Regent Park in 2001. It was the result of a lot of research that looked at poverty and education as determinants of population health. In other words, a well-off, well-educated population is a physically healthier population, one that makes better choices for its present and as well as its future. When overall health is examined, cycles emerge that contribute to it, negatively or positively. A group of people who consistently struggle to make ends meet, are consistently malnourished, and consistently experience stress because of consistent insecurity (financial, employment, family instability, etc.) isn’t likely to be a healthy group overall. An entry point was needed to begin breaking the cycles that perpetuate these challenges.
One way to ensure that a person has positive options in their future is to make sure that they are educated. With education comes a better overall chance for satisfying and stable employment, fewer frustrations that can result in committing crime, and increased access to great things that life can offer you if you know how to get them. To put it bluntly, struggling sucks, and people with the skills to pay the bills rarely find themselves struggling.
Huge barriers to academic success exist for huge chunks of the population of Toronto. What Pathways To Education wants to do this year in three of Toronto’s “priority neighbourhoods” is to eliminate those barriers for every high school student who chooses to participate in the program.
The successful Regent Park program is now joined by two new sites, Rexdale (Jamestown) and Lawrence Heights. These are neighbourhoods where more than half of all high school students drop out, where post-secondary education is something far beyond the reach of most residents, and where frustration is a common experience.
What Pathways does is provide social, financial, advocacy and academic support for every student enrolled in the program. All you have to do to be eligible is live inside a certain area. That’s it. Every student receives TTC tickets to get to and from school or lunch money to ensure that they are getting proper nutrition. Every student receives a $1,000 bursary to spend however they like in the post-secondary program they choose. Students at Rexdale and Regent Park are entitled to a free computer, courtesy of Sky’s The Limit.
Each student has a Student-Parent Support Worker (SPSW) who helps them to do well in school by holding them accountable for their own academic achievement. They work in the schools with teachers, administrators and parents on the student’s behalf. They help figure out what a student needs to do to graduate, how to stand up for themselves when they have problems with teachers, and how to advocate for themselves to get what they need in order to be successful. They monitor attendance and grades, giving students the kind of attention that keeps them from falling through the cracks.
Each student also receives free tutoring and mentoring. This is a crucial role of the program, not only making sure that students have the academic skills to get good grades and pursue whichever academic path they want, but that they also have the social skills to get along with fun, interesting and responsible adults, and hopefully strive to become fun, interesting and responsible themselves.
Tutoring and mentoring is entirely volunteer-run. All three sites require new volunteers for fall, especially Rexdale and Lawrence Heights, the new sites starting this year, which desperately need volunteers to get their programs up and running. Tutors and mentors are asked to make a minimum two-hour commitment each week. Volunteers for Pathways have a great opportunity to do something tangible to help youth who really need it.
If you’re interested in volunteering with Pathways, you can check out their website.
Photo by Simon Chambers from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.