A program that works

TheStar.com -Opinion/Editorial
Published On Mon Mar 08 2010

Schools are supposed to educate children. But when they come to class hungry, from homes where their parents often can’t help them with homework, it takes more than just a teacher and a classroom for them to succeed.

Students from poor and disadvantaged neighbourhoods consistently have lower test scores and higher dropout rates than the average. This is why it is such welcome news that an innovative program to help students in 100 Toronto public elementary schools has had remarkable success in improving reading, writing and math skills as well as increasing attendance and parental engagement.

Model Schools for Inner Cities began three years ago. At that time, students at the seven model schools that serve as the focal point of the program were well behind the average on standardized reading, writing and math tests. Now, most are at or above the average – and all for the cost of about 90 cents per student per day. The Toronto public school board is rightly proud of this achievement.

The model schools program supports innovative teaching and makes the curriculum more relevant to students’ lives. But it does not stop at the classroom door. Schools offer free hearing and vision screening, nutritious breakfast and snack programs, and after-school activities, vital in neighbourhoods where there is little to do and even less money to do it with.

To keep the program going, the school board will have to renew its support – and funding – when its budget is set this June. Despite its success, there will undoubtedly be debate about the $8.5 million cost of the program, given the board’s perennial difficulties in balancing its $2.4 billion budget.

But to date the program has been funded through the education ministry’s $120 million Learning Opportunities Grant, points out trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher. That funding envelope is specifically designed to help at-risk students. It is difficult to see how that goal could be more cost-effectively addressed than through the Model Schools for Inner Cities program.

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