We need Mohawk, and especially McMaster, to move into our neighbourhoods and build the dream of higher education in all our communities.
By Joey Coleman
Published July 14, 2011
The McGuinty government declared addressing poverty as one of the top priorities of their second term with a goal of reducing child poverty by 25%. Numbers compiled from StatsCan by Ontario's Social Planning Network shows that poverty is actually increasing. What can we do? Is there a macro solution to poverty that we are missing?
There isn't a magic bullet, but we are moving in the right direction. The investments made last decade in early learning are starting to produce results in our most poverty-stricken neighbourhoods.
In one of my old neighbourhoods, Crown Point, home to the Hamilton East Kiwanis Boys and Girls Club, the Queen Mary Public School grade 3 classes are showing encouraging and substantial improvements in numeracy and literacy as measured by EQAO scores.
In 2005/06, only 21% of Queen Mary's grade 3 students wrote at or above the province standard for their age. The provincial average at the time was 64%. In 2009/10, 73% of the grade 3 students met or exceed the standard. The provincial average was 70%.
Literacy is important for being able to overcome poverty, but what happens to these children when they reach high school and start to consider post-secondary education? Are we doing enough as a community to promote and assist in the obtainment of post-secondary education for our most disadvantaged citizens?
We can do more. We need to create the atmosphere for success.
I attended the University of Manitoba for my first year of university. On my first day in Winnipeg, I travelled to the Winnipeg Boys and Girls Club to volunteer. The Boys and Girls Club in Hamilton is the primary reason for my success and the Winnipeg Club continued the Club's support for me.
I've grown up in Hamilton's poorest neighbourhoods. Near Christmas of 2004, I was volunteering at a small Boys and Girls Club in North Winnipeg. The poverty in this neighbourhood shocked even me - how could we as a country allowed for this? I could not help but notice the majority of people in the neighbourhood were First Nations.
As I was building relationships with the members of this club, a young boy of no more than seven or eight years of age started asking me why I was in Winnipeg. He had a torn shirt and shoes with holes that could barely protect against the summer elements, let alone a Winnipeg winter.
Much like any child in a poor neighbourhood, he knew I was an outsider. I tried to avoid telling him I was attending the university. Eventually, he cornered me. I had to tell him, "I go to the University of Manitoba."
His reaction shocked me: "That's awesome, my cousin goes there. I'm going to go to the University of Winnipeg because that's where my uncle goes." A child in my neighbourhood back home wouldn't dream of a university education.
Growing up, no one around me was attending McMaster University. A few people went to Mohawk. There was no chance that a child in my neighbourhood would dream of - let alone plan - to attend McMaster.
However, both universities in Winnipeg offer extensive outreach programs in Winnipeg's poverty-stricken North End and for first-generation students on their campuses.
In Hamilton we're making strides with our younger children. Now we need Mohawk, and especially McMaster, to move into our neighbourhoods and build the dream of higher education in all our communities.
McMaster's president, Patrick Deane, served as Provost of the University of Winnipeg. He knows the positive impact that University is having in overcoming poverty in Winnipeg. I'm hopeful that he'll bring the best practices of how a university can address poverty to Hamilton.
A child born in Hamilton's wealthier suburbs is nearly guaranteed to attend post-secondary education, most likely university. Why? They have the supports to succeed. They have the financial resources to focus on studying and have the mentorship (their parents who attended university) to deal with the challenges of university.
A first-generation student rarely enjoys a mentor. For them, the adjustment to university is greater as they attempt to integrate into a foreign culture.
I challenge Hamilton's professional community to make a commitment of both their financial resources and their personal time to helping young people out of poverty. Be that mentor.
Hire a high school student from one of our "Code Red" neighbourhoods for administrative work during the summer. Be the person they can call in their senior year for homework assistance. Hire them back in subsequent summers. Fund a bursary to assist them in paying for residence during first year.
Let's produce a generation of young professionals who seed future leaders from our most disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
We cannot afford to squander the modest - and still inadequate - investment in early years made last decade. It's time to step up to the plate.
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