An interesting part of Cardus*U is attending weekly workshops animated by high-profile guests. This past week's session on strategic planning for creating sustainable, significant change was led by Peter O'Donnell, founder and president of Healthy Futures Group. I was surprised by his story of the Regent Park neighbourhood and how much it reminded me of one of my favourite movies.
Regent Park is a neighborhood in downtown Toronto where crime and poverty are highly prevalent. In 2000, students from Regent Park had a 56 percent drop out rate and of those that stayed in school, only 20 percent went on to receive post-secondary education. But in 2001, the Pathways to Education program was initiated for the neighborhood of Regent Park. The program invested in community involvement towards students in order to create support groups and it had remarkable results. Dropout rates fell to 11 percent and student acceptance to post-secondary programs increased to 90 percent. They also noted a reduction in teen pregnancies and youth crimes rates.
The title character in the movie Coach Carter found himself in a similar situation. Based on a true story, the film depicts a high school in Richmond, CA, with similar academic statistics to Regent Park. The basketball team fit well into those statistics but by the end of the movie almost the whole team had earned a college degree.
Coach Carter unknowingly used the ideas behind the Pathways to Education program to get his team back on track. Carter introduced an academic contract to his team, became a mentor to each boy, and enlisted help from parents and teachers for accountability and tutoring. He built a community of support for each athlete which nurtured a respect and interest in making a better life for themselves.
It is interesting to see that in both Regent Park and Richmond, the programs did not need in-school modifications to improve the academic interests of students. This is quite the contrast to past multimillion-dollar initiatives focused on teacher evaluation and education programs with very small returns. James K.A. Smith hits the nail on the head in his Comment article "Social Reform As If History Matters”:
In terms of subsidiarity, schooling is the sort of social good that is best tended by smaller 'societies' within society where parents—and the rest of us—are more intimately invested in the lives of children in our community.
The Pathway to Education programs exemplify subsidiarity by enabling communities to take ownership of education in their area rather than rely on the state to instill interest towards education in students. Community responsibility elicits a pride and commitment towards students, naturally creating genuine support groups and creating a sustainable change.
What I gathered from all this is that a worthy investment towards furthering education is in the support groups around students outside the classroom. Education is not just restricted to the in-school aspects, but it is everywhere and depends on everyone the student is surrounded by. Having a supportive community of individuals—parents, tutors, mentors, coaches, teachers, and friends—working together can create a major change in a neighborhood, a change that money cannot buy.
This is exactly why Cardus*U was developed: it gives us what the Pathways to Education program gives to students in the communities it is involved with. Cardus*U works to surround participants with overwhelming support from the cohort, workshop animators, and especially Cardus staff. Cardus*U has provided me with a community that will encourage me to further my education in all aspects of learning.