By Paulette Touby –
It’s a bit early for commencement season but this isn’t your typical graduating class.
On Sept. 22, 92 “at-risk” students were honoured by the Pathways to Education program for completion of the four-year program.
Pathways, housed in the Regent Park Community Health Centre, provides participating students four integrated supports over four years of secondary school. These supports are tutoring four nights per week in the community, TTC tickets earned through attendance, plus a $4,000 bursary to be used towards post secondary registration or tuition, group mentoring and specialty career mentoring, and student parent support workers who are a bridge between the community, parents, students, schools and program.
Each year since Pathways’ launch in September 2001, 97% of Regent Park youth have enrolled and reenrolled in the program. Last year, Pathways worked with 610 students in grades 9 through 12.
Marlon Brown, one of this year’s graduates, explained, “Pathways really helped [me] to see where [my] potential lay and moved [me] in that direction.” Brown plans to attend Centennial College for auto mechanics. Classmate Haibe Ibrahim is enrolling in the criminology program at Ryerson.
New deputy premier George Smitherman attended the ceremony and expressed his admiration for the program and for the graduates. In his generously candid address, he admitted that for the Pathways kids going on to postgraduate studies, they will actually have more of an education that he does—so don’t think that you can’t get anywhere, he advised.
Valedictorians Peter Wanyenya and Shequita Thompson shared top honours at the ceremony.
Wanyenya is an honour-roll student who graduated from Northern Secondary School this past June. Born in Kenya, he came to Canada as a young boy. He has had many exciting opportunities to hone his leadership skills over the years: he was a page at the Ontario Legislature in grade 7, and was featured in three issues of OWL Magazine as a “kid reporter” when he visited the NASA Johnson Space Center for them. At Northern, he participated in track and field.
Wanyenya won the Entrepreneurship Award through Junior Achievement. Through his participation in the Pathways program, he worked for Free the Children and had a job this past summer with the International AIDS Conference.
He is currently enrolled at the University of Windsor, in the commerce program, and plans to go on to study law.
Thompson’s family comes from Guyana, and she lives in Regent Park with her mom, dad and little brother, to whom she is very close. A graduate and class valedictorian of Jarvis Collegiate, she is a dancer and an actor who has had lead roles in many theatrical productions. She also helped organize the Black History Month assembly throughout her high school years.
In June 2005 Thompson participated in a one-day workshop on the John Lennon Music Bus with seven other Regent Park students, where she had the opportunity to create and produce an original song titled Breed Love. Thompson is an avid reader, who enjoys the work she does in the community and through her church.
She attends the University of Toronto and plans to be a lawyer.
The Pathways program envisions communities in which the potential of all socio-economically disadvantaged youth is maximized through the power of education. The mission of The Pathways to Education Program is to reduce poverty and its effects by supporting the development of youth from economically disadvantaged communities and promoting their individual health and the health of the community by addressing the two principal social determinants of health: education and income. The eventual outcome of the program is to share the model with other communities across Canada.