School community workers hired

12 more community support workers will serve at-risk Toronto students and parents
Toronto Star Feb 29, 2008 Kristin Rushowy

They arrange hearing and vision appointments for children, get parents involved in school and make connections with the community.

Community support workers – called "invaluable" by one trustee – got a boost yesterday when the Toronto District School Board announced it has more than doubled their numbers to serve a group of inner-city schools. The 12 new workers have been hired – for a total of 21 – for the Model Schools for Inner Cities project, in which seven elementary schools in at-risk areas receive $1 million each a year for three years to find and implement ways to improve the lives and education of their students, as well as those in neighbouring schools.

"One of our goals is to empower the community and empower parents and meet their needs," said Vicky Branco, lead principal of the project. "Schools are often looked upon as institutions and we don't want to be.We want to be open and feel we are partners."

Community support workers might forge connections with nearby social service agencies, to learn more about them so they can let the school, and parents, know what's available, she said. They also meet with members, or even religious leaders, of the community.

Doing so provides children with supports both inside and outside of school. That helps "set up the best system possible so that our children are successful. They are getting the necessary skills, emotional support and social support they need," said Branco.

The idea of the school as the community hub was endorsed in a recent report on safety in Toronto schools.
Trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher, one of the driving forces behind the inner cities school project, said research consistently shows parental involvement makes all the difference in a child's success at school.

Community workers help foster that, especially for newcomer parents. Typically, these workers speak a second language or have cultural or ethnic ties.  "They are invaluable," she added.