An inner-city education program that is achieving marked success in lowering the dropout rate for disadvantaged high-school students is expanding to new communities with the help of a fresh infusion of government funding.
Pathways to Education Canada will receive $28.5-million over three years from the Ontario government to help more students in low-income communities graduate from high school and go on to college, university or a trade.
Premier Dalton McGuinty unveiled the funding on Monday at a pre-graduation event in Regent Park, one of Toronto's poorest and most chronically troubled neighbourhoods. With the help of the Pathways to Education program, which began in Regent Park in 2001, the high-school graduation rate there has jumped to four in five from just one in five. Another 164 students received their diplomas Monday evening.
"It is truly amazing what can happen when you invest in someone who others have dismissed, ignored or forgotten," said David Hughes, the program's chief executive officer. "And in so doing, you tell them, 'We see you, we believe in you, we've got your back and we know you have unlimited potential to do great things one day if only you can be given a lucky break and a hand up.' "
Pathways used $19-million from the province four years ago to help roll out the program to seven other Ontario communities, including Lawrence Heights in Toronto and neighbourhoods in Hamilton, Kitchener and Ottawa. The new money will be used to make the program available to more students in Ontario. Pathways is also in the process of expanding to help youth across the country stay in school, with programs in Winnipeg, Montreal and Halifax.
The program, which revolves around the four pillars of tutoring, mentoring, coaching and financial assistance, is an attempt to step up the fight against poverty by changing a culture of defeatism to a school-going culture among at-risk youth.
The program also meshes with the Ontario government's plans to build a knowledge-based economy. A college or university education will help young people succeed in the new economy, Mr. McGuinty said.
"I think I know why you stuck to your studies," he told the graduates. "You understand in your heart of hearts that a good education just opens up a lot of doors for you. It means more opportunity, it means a better job, it means a better life."