Wednesday, July 25, 2007

School Dropouts and Pathways to Education

Teachers will be well-familiar with the following scenario: you have a class that is made up of a range of abilities, from the very bright to the struggling, but their common trait is that almost all of them want to succeed in the course. But then there is the proverbial Johnny, bored by every strategy you try, both jealous and resentful of his classmates, who does everything in his power to disrupt learning, ranging from verbal outbursts to loud flatulence to inappropriate jokes to mockery of both you and the other students. He is part of an in-school student retention program whose instructors often are much more tolerant of aberrant behaviour than you will ever be. Then one day you get the magical note in your mailbox: Johnny has withdrawn from school!

As a teacher, I was always deeply ambivalent about student dropouts. On the one hand it was sad to see the loss (at least temporarily) of potential in those going out the door, but on the other hand, it was often a relief, inasmuch as that person was no longer going to be a disruptive influence in the class.

I feel no such ambivalence about a program that is having remarkable success not only in preventing dropouts but in helping to ensure post-secondary educational opportunities as well. It is called Pathways to Success. It is a program that, after 6 years of operation, has achieved astounding success in the troubled Toronto area known as Regent Park. Dropout rates have been reduced from 56% to 10%, and the number of students going on to post secondary education has risen from 20% to almost 80%, statistics that are amazing by anyone’s standards.

What is the key to the program’s success? Essentially, all Grade 9 students and their families where Pathways operates are offered an opportunity to sign on with the program, which offers a myriad of potential benefits:
- access to tutoring 4 nights per week
- participation in group mentoring
- access to career and individual mentoring in senior years
- bus fare to attend school
- access to youth workers for both students and their families
- financial help for special opportunities
- a university or college scholarship worth $1000 for each school year students participate in the program

As a retired teacher, what I find so exciting about a program like this is not only its success rate but also the fact that it involves a real commitment on the part of both the student and her/his family. So many times in the past, I felt public education was engaging in futile efforts to help those who did not want to be helped. Here exists an opportunity for motivated young people to surmount social and economic barriers and compete on a much better footing with those who have had many more advantages in life.

If interested in more information about the program, visit

I would also be very interested in hearing from readers about other programs that are trying to achieve similar objectives.


Anonymous said...

I agree with most of what you have said. We have become accepting of so many things. Most, including myself, may pause for a moment, question something and let the issue go because we feel "busy." However, I have realized that, as you have said, the media, government etc. do need to be questioned and held accountable. I was raised to question little and to be respectful of those in power or those older than me and I find that now as an adult I resent being so passive. I do want to raise my own children to be critical thinkers and yet also be respectful. I have now realized that raising questions does not necessarily mean you are being disrespectful. Teachers and parents therefore are responsible for raising youth to understand how to be mindful and respectful without being too passive (or conversely too aggressive).
Also, I have recently read that a number of school boards are making and effort to teach children about some common "traits" such as being trustworthy, kind... lessons that at one point or another would have been taught at home. While this seems like a noble move, the boards also fail to mention HOW these will be taught. Teachers, and parents need to ask the questions "how? and why?" more often. Let's not blindly accept the blurb in the newspaper about wonderful curriculum initiatives as being "wonderful" just because so was written in the local paper.

Lorne, have you thought about writing curriculum???

Woodland said...

I actually saw a reference to this program on another blog just yesterday. What incredible results! I too work with an organization that helps youth with their education. Our organization is called Intense Mentoring, and we reach out to young women agens 16 and up who have dropped out school so that they can complete their secondary education and go on to college or a vocational school. Through bi-weekly like skills training, adult mentors, and connections with alternative education providers, we have been able to retain an 80% success rate, nearly twice better than the city of Detroit, Michigan where we operate. After having read about this organization in several places, I know now that we can even do more - what an inspirational organization!

Woodland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lorne said...

Anonymous makes several excellent points here. I think that only by consistently holding those in authority responsible for what they do and say can they can be reminded that respect has to be earned; by taking it for granted, as they often do, they demean both their positions and society as a whole.

With regard to school boards initiating 'character education,' I too am dubious as to how teachers are supposed to achieve the marvellous results promised. I think most educators realize that their impact on students, especially in areas such as this, is small compared to the influences of family, peers, and society.

Lorne said...

Woodland, the program you describe sounds quite interesting. I think it makes all the difference in the world when people realize that getting an education is a necessity in today's world. I suspect the girls involved in your program are as highly motivated as those in Pathways to Education.

I am curious as to whether the funding for yours is based solely on private contirbutions, or if there is any government assistance as well. Apparently the Pathways program has reeived some funding from the Ontario government, but it has not indicated that there will be any regular assistance. Therefore, a good deal of the cost are born by priivate contributions.