Want Kids to Succeed in School? Create more Opportunity for Community-based Extracurricular Activities, Landmark Study by Waterloo Researcher Shows

News
May 15, 2022

Education expert Ardavan Eizadirad among leading line-up of speakers at Congress 2022, Canada’s largest humanities and social sciences conference, taking place virtually May 12-20 

Waterloo, ON, April 26, 2022 — As students across Ontario return to in-class instruction, all eyes are on dealing with learning loss. But for marginalized and racialized students, success in school will take more than a return to normal — it will take parents, educators and community partners working together to deliver extracurricular support programs that are both accessible and affordable. 

That’s the finding of a recent study led by leading education researcher and Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education at Wilfrid Laurier University Ardavan Eizadirad, who is working to shift the narrative in mainstream education circles to focus on closing the opportunity gap. The systemic barriers facing Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) students, and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, are not only wide-ranging and deep, but were worsened by the pandemic and can no longer be ignored, he said. 

Eizadirad will be sharing this message as a featured speaker at the upcoming Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences (Congress 2022), Canada’s largest academic gathering and one of the most comprehensive in the world, taking place virtually this year from May 12-20. 

Billed as a leading conference on the critical conversations of our time, Congress 2022 will serve as a platform for the unveiling of thousands of research papers and presentations from social sciences and humanities experts worldwide. With more than 6,000 visitors expected to log in, the event will focus on reimagining the future following two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and other life-altering world events, with the goal of inspiring ideas, dialogue and action that create a more diverse, sustainable, democratic and just future.  

Eizadirad will share findings from his landmark research project conducted from September 2020 to May 2021, in partnership with the Youth Association for Academics, Athletics and Character Education (YAAACE) and Spirit of Math, to assess the effectiveness of supplementary programs held by both groups outside of normal school hours. The study specifically examined a program offered in Toronto’s Jane and Finch community, called the Community School Initiative (CSI), to understand the impact of COVID-19 on learning loss and explore ways to close opportunity gaps. 

“You’ll hear everyone talking about all of the learning that was lost due to the pandemic and the need to return to normal, but we actually don’t want to return to normal because normal wasn’t really working for many students,” said Eizadirad, noting that the transition to remote learning only exacerbated inequities, as many students in marginalized or racialized communities don’t have access to a laptop or a quiet place to work at home. 

“What we need to do is to create new education policies and practices that aim to work on student achievement from an equity lens,” he said. 

The statistics are startling. According to a Colour of Poverty report from 2019, only 53 percent of Black students and 48 percent of Indigenous students were enrolled in academic programs — as opposed to non-academic programs — compared to 81 percent of white students. White students also have a higher high school graduation rate. 

What’s needed is better synergy between what happens in school and what happens outside of school, Eizadirad emphasized. The study showed that when community organizations, parents, educators and school boards work together, and are intentional in how to mitigate opportunity gaps, students benefit. The goal, he said, is to create extracurricular learning opportunities that represent the diversity of a school community, using pedagogical practices that are socially and culturally relevant, and ensuring that the people who lead the programs have strong community connections. 

Overall, the study showed that the initiative — which provided subsidized extracurricular support services at a fraction of the typical cost, using athletics to inspire kids — effectively minimized the achievement gap during the pandemic by creating access to academic opportunities that were affordable and culturally relevant for families living in the Jane and Finch area. One of the key findings was that it was very important for each child to be able to reach out to a caring adult regardless of the time of day or day of the week. Researchers also found that when schools transitioned to online learning, providing technology literacy was critical. 

“It wasn’t that students weren’t completing their tasks. Families were struggling with how to take the homework and upload it to the online platform,” Eizadirad explained. “It was a teachable moment and we had to go back and create how-to videos to clearly outline the steps for parents and students.” 

Key recommendations from the study include a call for greater investment to facilitate access to opportunities and programs that are affordable and accessible; more investment in holistic, culturally relevant and sustainable programming that rewards diverse identities and lived experiences; and, increased support for parents on how to navigate online educational platforms.  

“We need to talk more about the opportunity gap and work collaboratively to mitigate those barriers that are deeply rooted in our school communities,” Eizadirad said. “If we can do that, the achievement gap will naturally close because students will come to learning spaces more at ease, and more prepared and willing to leave their comfort zones.” The final report and its findings and recommendations can be accessed at www.communityschoolinitiative.com/final-report

Organized by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, Congress 2022 is sponsored by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Mitacs, SAGE Publishing, Universities Canada, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and University Affairs. 

Registration – which includes 100+ keynote and open Congress 2022 sessions (with recordings available until June 3, 2022) – is $55. Visit www.federationhss.ca/congress-register to register for a community pass and access the program of events open to the public. 

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