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Wake Up York Region: Profiling the Voices of York Region Youth Pushed out of the Education System

Posted: June 14th, 2017 at 11:06am

By: Herleen Arora

In today’s society, higher levels of education attainment leads to greater labour force participation, reduced levels of reliance on income support programs, and higher earnings. In addition, there are an increased number of social benefits including positive health outcomes, civic participation, and community engagement.  Unfortunately, across Ontario 13.5% of high school students do not graduate with an Ontario Secondary School Diploma. In York Region, approximately 7% of students from York Region District School Board (YRDSB) and 3.6% from York Region Catholic District School Board (YRCDSB) do not complete their high school diploma within 5 years.

From looking at the statistics, it makes one wonder what happened to the students who did not complete high school. What were their experiences like? What factors contributed to them not completing high school? What supports and resources were available to them? As a long time resident of York Region for over 20 years, a YRDSB graduate, and a community based researcher, I wanted to further explore these questions and took the opportunity from the Laidlaw Foundation to complete a Nathan Gilbert Youth Innovation Fellowship. I was awarded the fellowship in 2016 and more importantly it was the first youth led community based research project to happen in York Region.

To provide some context about York Region, it is a large geographic region between Lake Simcoe and the City Toronto (just north of the Steeles!) divided into 9 towns/cities. It is home to the third largest school district in Ontario, York Region District School Board, with over 123,000 students. The region is often misconceived of being comprised of solely affluent communities without poverty or social issues.  Obviously this is not the case, and my fellowship further explores this through consultations and discussions with youth, educators, and service providers.

The focus of my fellowship was to conduct a community based research project toPicture2 further understand factors that contributed to York Region youth between the ages of 15 – 29 who had been pushed out of the education system. The term “push out” is defined as school structure and practices that contribute to youth leaving and/or dropping out of high school.

In the initial phase of this community based research project, I conducted key informant interviews across York Region with educators, youth service providers, academics and community researchers to get a deeper understanding of the education system, practices and policies, and factors contributing to early push out. In addition, I also hosted a community consultation with 20 social service providers, youth advocates and educators to get their feedback on the project and insights on factors that contribute to youth being pushed out of the education system. This community consultation was a critical moment in the project as it helped frame the design of the next phase of focus groups and interviews with York Region youth. I quickly learned that sending out a poster was not the way I was going to connect with young people, it was all about developing relationships and gathering support from the community. Service providers who attended the consultation were extremely helpful in coordinating focus groups and interviews with approximately 15 York Region youth in Newmarket and Richmond Hill.

What I Have Heard So Far…….

“Crap going on at home you can’t deal with…and when I was at school I was the quiet kid….I got ignored a lot. I would come to class. I wouldn’t feel welcomed, and I felt this wasn’t worth it. I would skip for a few days, come back and felt overwhelmed with all the work I would have to catch up on” – YR Youth

 “Not completing high school is intergenerational” – Wrap Around Support Worker 

“More intersections a student Picture1embodies, more  unlikely to graduate” – YR Teacher

 “If there were counselors and teachers that actually cared….I  would have stayed” YR Youth

 “I am not going to make it anyway, so what’s the point in  trying” – Georgina Youth Advocate

It is evident that there is a combination of individual, family and school factors that have contributed to youth not completing high school. These factors include homelessness, mental health, family instability, school environment and curriculum, bullying, and relationships with teachers. These factors will be further explored and discussed in my research report, which will be released later this summer.

The Nathan Gilbert Youth Innovation Fellowship is an opportunity for young community workers, researchers, changemakers, and activists to explore a policy issue that they are passionate about and craft youth focused approaches and solutions in the following sectors: the education system, the justice system, and the not-for-profit sector.

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