Monday, January 08, 2007


Originally uploaded by Oldmaison.
Sharing a common vision

Sandra Davis

Published Monday January 8th, 2007

Appeared on page C1

Editor's Note: What follows is the last of a six-part series reporting on a local initiative that uses mentoring in some Saint John schools as a tool to tackle poverty and illiteracy.

Volunteers, community advocates and mentors in schools, an engaged business community, expectations of success from the get-go and cash for resources provide the sum of all parts for Saint John to educate its children and enable them to become productive, tax-paying citizens.

Therein lies the formula to break out of the poverty cycle, says a leading expert in social policy.

"Student-teacher relations make a difference - students having an advocate either at school, at home or in the neighbourhood," says J. Douglas Willms. "Someone who's helping to keep them motivated. Someone who has an interest in their school projects, a friend they can talk to. Those pieces are really important."

Willms is director of the Canadian Research Institute for Social Policy, based at the Fredericton campus of the University of New Brunswick.

His vision of how to break out of the cycle of poverty and illiteracy that Saint John suffers from is exactly the type of partnership four Saint John schools are blessed with.

Partners Assisting Local Schools (PALS) is a project that has teamed corporations with inner-city schools. It is meeting with great success.

Marks, attendance and behaviour have all improved to the point where the project's flagship school, Prince Charles, boasts a 50 per cent increase in the high school graduation rate by its alumni since the inception of PALS six years ago.

Education Minister Kelly Lamrock has toured Prince Charles School. He's impressed with what is happening. He also shares Willms' vision of how private-sector leaders can work with educators.

In fact, Lamrock will be meeting with the Business Council of New Brunswick to talk about developing a shared vision.

Investing in early screening, holding the system more accountable, freeing up teachers to innovate, creating community schools and putting resources up front for children who struggle, are all on the education minister's radar screen.

"We have to find a way that accounting can reflect reality rather than trying to make reality reflect accounting fiction," said Lamrock. "If we know that if we intervene forcefully and with proper resources early we will save money down the road, we've got to find a way to do it."

Accountability of the education system should also play a part, he says.

"We need to say, 'What happens if they're below level?' Should we be holding schools accountable? If a school is doing better, maybe we have to reward them with resources and the opportunity to help lower-performing schools meet that grade. We can't give in to the expectation around kids who struggle. And that's doubly important in neighbourhoods where there is, traditionally, a low literacy rate."

Developing a community schools program, where retraining and literacy programs could be offered, is also important to the minister, along with after-school programs and interactive learning centres.

"All of these can happen if you make the school building open more hours and attract the whole community to build something where people learn. That's a model I'm looking forward to suggesting with some of the people who support the PALS initiative," he said.

Giving teachers the freedom and the flexibility to create diverse, innovative programs to address challenges will also be a topic of discussion while Lamrock is minister.

"One thing we've been talking a lot about is how do we get the department out of the way, in some cases, to free up teachers to be more innovative. Too often, teachers who have particular student populations say if you're trying something different, you almost wish you hadn't because you have to get approval from so many people and it's so hard to get resources.

"We have to find a way to get resources quickly into the hands of our most innovative teachers and, where they succeed, create a culture where they are encouraged to share what they're doing with other schools."

School District 8's education director, Bev MacDonald, is hoping PALS will expand province-wide. And in the city, she's working with at least two other corporations interested in partnering with schools. She has a list of five to seven Saint John city schools that could really benefit from having a partner.

"I would say that every school could benefit from a partner, but if someone said to me, 'Do you have one school who could use it a little more than another,' I have a priority list," she said.

You don't have to be a big corporate entity to support a community school, said MacDonald.

"It could be any type of group, association or business. No contribution is too small. When a school identifies their needs or wish list, then any partner can have a look at those lists and determine what they can do."

The change in students' attitudes, says MacDonald, attest to the program's success.

"The partnerships have breathed more life into a lot of these situations. They're giving hope where people were in survival mode before. We won't be able to measure totally until these children become adults in our community. And, we will never measure the difference it has made in the hearts and the minds of these children."

James K. Irving, who developed the first partnership between J.D. Irving, Limited and Prince Charles School, has also noticed a change.

"There's a big difference with the students down there - it's just wonderful," he said.

"We've got a group of fine young people there. They have values, they're getting self-confidence and they're really good youngsters."


Put PALS to work all over N.B.

Published Monday January 8th, 2007

Appeared on page A6

The challenge of strengthening the education system is largely a challenge of innovation - of finding new models that achieve particular goals, and then putting the resources in place to employ such programs where they would be most useful.

Schools and businesses in District 8 have developed a model that works well for schools where a high percentage of students come from low-income families in marginal neighbourhoods. What's needed now is the political will to expand the program in Saint John and other municipalities.

Partners Assisting Local Schools (PALS) is the brainchild of industrialist J.K. Irving, and a result of research conducted by Saint John's Business Community Anti-Poverty Initiative. Beginning with Prince Charles School and J.D. Irving, Limited, PALS has partnered businesses, churches and community groups with inner-city schools to supply one-on-one tutors, hot breakfast and lunch programs, clothing drives, coaching and personal mentoring. The program has resulted in a 50-per-cent increase in the number of students from Prince Charles who have gone on to graduate from high school, a huge reduction in vandalism in the neighbourhood, and the creation of a true, community-wide partnership in education.

Today, four Saint John schools are participating in PALS. Community partners range from major corporations such as Wells Fargo and Aliant to the Saint John Regional Hospital, churches, and organizations such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters, the IODE and Kiwanis. The school district is working with two new corporate partners to establish volunteer mentoring programs, and has a priority list of another five to seven schools that could benefit.

PALS works because it gives students the resources needed to overcome instability at home and impoverished backgrounds, from regular meals and a sense of positive, supportive community to one-on-one tutoring and modern libraries. Volunteers and corporate sponsors have been able to do what government has not: bring the resources of the community to bear on those most in need of additional tutoring and positive relationships. Parents, teachers and volunteers working together in Saint John's schools have created new relationships that continue to transform the lives of students long after they leave their alma mater.

Education Minister Kelly Lamrock says his government is looking for innovation, supportive of public sector partnerships that benefit schools, and impressed by the impact of PALS. He plans to meet with the Business Council of New Brunswick to discuss ways of developing a common model for community school partnerships.

We hope this is the start of a provincewide initiaive. The provincial government has proof that PALS works - now it must find the political will to make the same resources availabile to others.


Anonymous said...

I think he means PRIVATE sector partnerships.

So let's get this straight. The province slowly spends a fortune on administrators in order to make education a completely provincial matter, and now says that there is too much bureaucracy? Thats real smart, wasn't it the liberals that did that in the first place?

I've got news for JD, those kids were ALWAYS good kids. And whats with the statement a few days ago that the number of graduates from this school had increased from 40 to 60%, now this article is saying its increased 50%?

If anybody needs more of an example of how Irving runs the province they need look no further. They run a story like this, then the government is saying 'hey, let's make this policy'.

Just in Passing said...

Gee I wonder what an avereage between 40% and 60% might be? Would that be oh, 50%? Come on If your going to go after the Irvings pick something important. Try pollution or LNG or the environment there has to be something better than that. Whining about how they write percentages in an article as if it were something important shows just how Petty little people like anonymous are. If your trying to show your rage at least make it over something some one might actually care about.