As part of the Bachelor of Education program at York, all first year students are required to complete a practicum placement with a community agency. In addition to our one day each week in a school, we go to this agency for one morning, afternoon or evening each week. This can be anything from a homework club, to a home for the elderly, to giving subsidized music lessons. I’ve been spending one afternoon each week at an agency called Pathways to Education, in Regent Park. For the first semester, I was in Academic Support. Basically, high school students come in with homework, or general academic questions, and we do our level best to help them. I’ve edited essays on American history and Shakespeare, as well as helping one group of students find some social justice-related resources for an equity course. In second semester, I’ve been working in Peer Mentoring with a group of grade nine students. I’ll post in a few weeks about my experiences there, and I’ll be keeping this post to my thoughts on Academic Support
One of the most interesting things to come out of this placement is a heightened awareness of how much high school has changed since I was there. Even though I’m in the Intermediate/Senior stream of my program (grades 7-12), my school placement this year is a middle school class. So, I haven’t really been in contact with high school students outside of Pathways. Although my own high school experience was highly unusual – I went to a public arts school – it had lots in common with those of my friends at other schools. A lot of the assumptions about time have changed, for instance. When I was in high school, I had no illusions about graduating in four years. I took my time, confident that I could take a fifth year of school, and spread the academic stress a little thinner. Knowing that I needed six strong marks in my senior (grade eleven/twelve credits) to make it to university, I did in three years what nearly all university applicants are doing in two years. I have witnessed the incredible toll this is taking, particularly in communities like Regent Park that already battle poverty, violence and racism. Four years is simply not enough time to mature, achieve academic success, and move from the relative comfort of the elementary schooling years, to post-secondary. Agencies like Pathways are being forced to pick up even more of the slack as the Ministry of Education hands down increasingly brutal budget cuts.
Unfortunately, because so many students (particularly in grades eleven and twelve) were asking for help with math and science, I wasn’t always able to give a lot of assistance. Nonetheless, I learned a lot from Academic Support. First, every students deserves a chance. Regardless of family resources, skin colour or sex, every student ought to be taken seriously by the school system, and treated with respect. Second, course selection and content ought to better reflect diverse communities. As great as Lord of the Flies may be, it is but one of many thousands of novels that can be taught in schools. Perhaps we can choose books with similar themes that consciously reflect a desire for inclusion and cultural diversity?
In the photos below, you’ll find some photos of a diorama I made for my Community Practicum seminar. As part of a Gallery Walk presentation, each student was required to talk creatively about their placements, and ideas connected to it. I chose a diorama for two reasons. First, and most importantly, I always loved making them. As you can see, I have basically zero talent in the visual arts, but the experience was still a ton of fun. Figuring out how to recreate the space I was working in, while speaking to the connections between my experiences and education theory (shown by the books glued to the walls) was a total mind-bender! Second, I felt it was important for me to ‘walk the walk’ in regards to trying and failing. I can’t well ask my students, current and future, to be willing to embarrass themselves if I myself am not willing to do so. As a former teacher and mentor of mine used to say, “I won’t ask you to go anywhere I’m not willing to go.”