Niagara school program helps at-risk students

Last month, two studies commissioned by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario revealed that a student’s family history of post-secondary attendance has a greater positive effect on their pursuit of higher education than family income does.

The District School Board of Niagara (DSBN) has begun to address this problem through the creation of the DSBN Academy — a school for students in grades six through 12 whose parents have not graduated from a post-secondary institution.

McGuinty’s Ontario government hopes to make 70 per cent of the province’s population college or university graduates and the DSBN Academy is just one way the Niagara region is addressing this objective.

“A program like the DSBN Academy is just another strategy that helps these students get to post-secondary and kind of makes the Niagara region a place where they’re going to come back after graduation,” said Tom Reynolds, the DSBN project co-ordinator, who mentioned graduating students coming back and stimulating the region’s economy.

“We must reach out and demonstrate that higher education holds value for [high-risk students] as well,” said the region’s director of education Warren Hoshizaki. “If we do not increase the participation of these groups we risk leaving them out of future prosperity.”

The Niagara region has a number of schools that have been identified as priority schools and are now hosting special initiatives like after-school programs and full-day kindergarten.

This project is just another action the DSBN is taking towards addressing the needs of the students of the region.

Hoshizaki explained that Ontario universities house many programs that aid first-generation students in achieving their goals at their respective post-secondary institutions. By creating programs that begin this process sooner, Hoshizaki and the DSBN board believe they can increase the number of students in this high-risk group that are successful in higher education.

Those wishing to attend the DSBN Academy must fill out an application and be accepted into the school, which is only taking applications for those entering grades six and seven.

If the program is successful, a grade will be added with each passing school year after the Academy opens next fall.

“We’re looking at about 75 kids in each grade, just as a pilot so that we make sure that we do things right and correct the things that we’re doing wrong,” explained Hoshizaki. “We want it to be successful for the kids and their families.”

The application process involves a section filled out by parents, including a question that asks: “What will you do to contribute to the academic success of your child at DSBN Academy?”

Hoshizaki explained that the increased involvement of parents as a component of students’ schooling, coupled with resources such as tutors that will be available at the academy, will help ensure that the students succeed in pursuing post-secondary education.

The DSBN Academy is also discussing partnerships with post-secondary institutions such as Brock University and Niagara College. Both Hoshizaki and Reynolds believe building partnerships with these institutions as well as local groups will increase the support behind the school’s students.

“Having those relationships with post-secondary neighbours in the Niagara region is really important because that’s why parents are applying to DSBN Academy, that’s what they’re looking for,” said Reynolds. “And if we can make those local links with Niagara [College] and we can make those local links with Brock as well it’s going to help everybody.”

Quick facts

The DSBN Academy is expected to provide the following:

School-wide shared beliefs focused on post-secondary preparation

Committed and motivated students, families and staff

Single-track academic program

Advisory program support

After-school “encore” programs

Programming that encourages parent involvement


-Courtesy of the official DSBN website