Closing the Achievement Gap for Racialized Neighbourhoods

Overall Goal and Specific Objectives

There is little research to help community organizations that support marginalized youth to understand the effectiveness of programs that were previously provided in face-to-face contexts transition to online formats in the COVID-19 pandemic era. As well, there are few resources available to help community organizations make this transition from face-to-face to online learning opportunities as it requires access to technology and accommodating home environments and schedules of parents and participants. Recent reports have highlighted the fact that marginalized youth, particularly those from racialized communities, are increasingly at risk for being further disadvantaged in multiple ways as a result of the pandemic (Eizadirad & Sider, 2020).Youth Association for Academics, Athletics and Character Education (YAAACE) is a non-profit community organization that seeks to engage children and youth in Toronto, particularly within the “Jane and Finch” community, a highly racialized neighbourhood that is under-resourced. through participation in year round comprehensive programming and activities (academics, athletics, recreation, technology and the arts). YAAACE would benefit greatly from research to better understand the effectiveness of its community-school supplemental education programs as it transitions to offer online and remote learning experiences for winter and spring of 2020-2021. YAAACE requires evidence-based resources to situate the impact of its programming. This PDG will also benefit other community organizations as the findings from this study will be communicated with school boards, Ministry departments, and other community organizations about how community-based programming can be mobilized in the COVID-19 era to close the opportunity gap as it impacts black, Indigenous, people of colour, and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. This research study will bring together key partnering organizations, researchers, and community activists to drive emerging research on how to effectively support community-based organizations such as YAAACE in online program delivery and to assess its effectiveness leading to insights about how to better support students and families remotely to reflect their needs and circumstances.

The overall goal of this 8-month collaboration (November 2020-June 2021) is to conduct research on the effectiveness of YAAACE’s community-school project as it is delivered through an online format; then, to mobilize knowledge on the outcomes of the study to support other community organizations in their transition to online learning environments.

Specific Objectives

1) Assess the effectiveness of YAAACE’s “The Weekend Academy” program (http://yaaace.com/programs/weekend-academy/) as it transitions from in-person to virtual delivery for the Winter and Spring terms of 2020-2021. This program falls under the academic intervention phase of YAAACE’s Social Inclusion framework which involves Ontario Certified Teachers (OCT) working with students from Grades 2 to 8 on weekends to support their academic and socio-emotional needs.

2) Identify barriers for parents, educators, and students that prevent their consistent engagement in remote programming offered by YAAACE.

3) Identify effective remote instruction community programming and pedagogies that can supplement education programs offered by the schools. This type of holistic and interdisciplinary programming can minimize the achievement gap via focusing on aligning the opportunity gap between those from higher and lower socioeconomic backgrounds (Eizadirad, 2019/ 2020; Ekeh & Okeke, 2019) 

4) Identify new avenues and platforms to offer effective remote instruction and support students and parents based on identified community needs via consolation with past and current participants and dialogue with multiple stakeholders.  

Alignment with SSHRC Future Challenge Areas

This novel partnership involves co-creation of knowledge between academic and non-academic partners to address future areas of challenge by developing new ways of learning to benefit Canadians. It synergistically builds upon the research and development skills of the partner organizations. YAAACE’s mandate is to build capacity in all children and youth thus enhancing their capacity to become twenty first century learners and global citizens. This focus on developing innovative competencies, particularly for marginalized youth, is a key aspect of Canada’s commitment to innovation, equity, and inclusion particularly as it relates to closing the achievement gap by focusing on minimizing the opportunity gap in remote learning.

Relevance to Partner Organization

YAAACE is a non-profit community organization founded in 2007, that seeks to engage children and youth from all communities – particularly those from marginalized and under-resourced communities through participation in year round comprehensive programming and activities under a Social Inclusion framework. The Social Inclusion framework is a proactive attempt to mitigate the levels of academic attrition in racialized and under-resourced communities early on through identification and wrap-around support services.

This project is responsive to the needs of community organizations to transition to online learning environments for marginalized youth, a complex topic of critical importance to Canadian educational and community leaders. Given the prominent place of YAAACE in the Greater Toronto Area community and the national research profile of the applicant and co-applicant in equity, diversity, inclusion and leadership, such partnerships are critically important, timely, and can yield new insights about how to support marginalized identities and communities in relation to circumstances created by the pandemic.

All partners will engage in significant research and knowledge mobilization. Key outcomes of this project for YAAACE include: 

(1) Develop a report on the effectiveness of transitioning a community-school supplemental education program into an online format as a result of COVID-19 to work towards closing the achievement gap by focusing on mitigating inequality of opportunity.  

(2) Create knowledge mobilization activities such as additions to the YAAACE website, distribution of key recommendations to other community organizations, and the use of social media to mobilize knowledge on the results of study, and 

(3) Host a knowledge sharing event bringing together community organizations, universities, government Ministries, and school boards to further elucidate the results of the study including identifying new opportunities to offer effective remote instruction and support for students and parents.

Originality, Significance, and Contribution to Knowledge

There is an urgent need to better understand how community organizations can support marginalized children and youth during and post COVID-19 pandemic era. This research offers a timely opportunity to shift our focus to how to minimize the opportunity gap as a long-term sustainable approach and strategy to closing the achievement gap between racialized and non-racialized students and those from higher and lower socio-economic backgrounds, particularity in the context of offering remote programming and services within under-resourced communities. 

This approach goes beyond a microscopic exclusive focus on outcome-based results to considering synergistic collaborative efforts between schools and community organizations offering holistic interdisciplinary services involving numerous practitioners to address the needs of the community members and mitigate the systemic barriers and inequities impacting the community.

Specifically, this research project builds on the Social Inclusion framework.  By targeting students at the elementary school level, during their early schooling years, the program seeks to target the most vulnerable cohort of students: those diagnosed with a learning exceptionality or concurrent disorder; those dealing with an absentee parent(s); those dealing with issues around bereavement; those dealing with exposure to violence or trauma; and for any other variable that would inhibit student achievement and subsequent disengagement. The rationale is that the achievement gap needs to mitigated through early years identification and intervention 

With its unique focus on effectiveness of remote instruction and programming as well as barriers in accessing the programs and services, this research will address the gap in the literature on community organizations transitioning from offering face-to-face programming to remote learning. The structure of this project will allow for the emergence of short-term insights and areas of longer term industry/academic collaboration.

Theoretical and Methodological Approaches

Research questions include: (1) What are the most significant challenges and benefits that community organizations experience in supporting students in under-resourced communities as they transition to offer remote programming and services? (2) What resources are available to support the transition to remote programming and what additional platforms and pedagogies need to be invested in to make the program accessible and high quality? (3) What new opportunities exist for creation of new programming and services to reflect new needs and circumstances of families and participants as created by the pandemic? (4) How and in what ways do educators and other practitioners need to be supported to offer quality programming and services via YAAACE?