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Hello there, we’re GEEC, the Greater Equity in Early Education and Care: Child, Family, and Community Engaged Research team. We are a research collaborative working with community partners to promote equity in learning and care for children through child, family, and community engaged research.

School redesign and neighbourhood redevelopment: A longitudinal study of education success and well-being

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What is it?

How does school redesign and neighbourhood redevelopment in marginalized communities affect children’s academic success and well-being? What impacts does it have on families and the community? The School redesign and neighbourhood redevelopment: A longitudinal study of educational success, families is a community-partnered project that investigates the role of the built environment in reducing inequities. The study looks at how innovative school redesign and neighbourhood redevelopment can affect children, families, and communities in marginalized neighbourhoods.

A student’s work displayed in the school.

How did we do it?

In 2011 and 2012, a school in a socioeconomically disadvantaged neighbourhood in downtown Toronto was closed down for school redesign. The school redesign was informed by an inclusive architectural design process, where students, teachers, parents, the community, and housing experts shared their design input for the new school.

As you can see in the timeline below, during the school redesign students and teachers were relocated to two ‘feeder schools (FS1, FS2)’ in the same neighbourhood:

After the process, the school was reopened in 2013 with many former and new students from the ‘feeder schools’ (FS1, FS2) moving into the ‘redesign school (RS).’ Throughout the school redesign process, neighbourhood redevelopment was also happening in the community, where old social housing units were being demolished and replaced with new buildings in phases. Some residents in the community were temporarily relocated during construction, depending on what phase of the redevelopment affected their home.

What we found

From our initial findings, various themes emerged from students, families, schools, and the community. These included thoughts on:

  • School and neighbourhood safety
  • Neighbourhood redevelopment
  • Built environment (before, during, and after school redesign)
  • School social dynamics and transition (during school redesign and related transitions)
  • School-based programs and services

What’s next?

With our data collection complete, we’re now focused on sharing our results with study participants, the community, key stakeholders, and the public.

To read more about the study and our findings, click here.

Document citation: Patel, S. (2016). School redesign and neighbourhood redevelopment: Knowledge mobilization summary report. Toronto, ON: School of Early Childhood Studies, Ryerson University.

School Leadership and Family-School- Community Partnerships: The Model Schools for Inner Cities Initiative

School-level leadership is key in establishing family-school-community partnerships. The present research is based on interviews with parents and school administrators from two Toronto-area MSIC schools in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Participants were asked about programs and services available to children and families at the school, school-family relationships, how the school acts as the hub of the community, and engagement of newcomer, refugee, and culturally diverse families. School staff and parents play key roles in fostering family-school-community relations, and trusting relationships are the foundation for future community partnerships. This research has implications for hiring in an inner-city context, as well as training in family and community engagement. Anti-oppression and anti-Black racism staff training are also vital to ensure that schools effectively support students and families.

Our approach

The purpose of this study is to identify the leadership practices and strategies that fostered family-school-community partnerships in a Toronto-based, board-wide equity initiative. The Model Schools for Inner Cities initiative strives to enhance equity in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) by increasing access to social and educational supports for students and families in the city’s most marginalized communities. Qualitative case study techniques were used to explore leadership strategies and practices in two Toronto schools in the MSIC initiative. A descriptive analysis of secondary parent focus group and school administrator interview data were guided by the following research question: Within the context of the MSIC initiative in Toronto, Canada, what leadership strategies and practices do school administrators use to foster family-school-community partnerships? 

Semi-structured interviews were held with school administrators (principals and vice-principals) at both schools in 2014 and 2019

What we found

Seven prominent themes emerged from the descriptive analysis. These themes are bolded in the following discussion. The analysis revealed some similarities and differences between the two school sites. When no noteworthy differences were observed between time points, 2014 and 2019 data are treated as one sample.

Parents and administrators at both schools discussed the importance of creating a welcoming physical and social school environment. Parents discussed the importance of having an inviting entranceway and the important role played by all school staff, particularly front desk staff, in establishing a welcoming environment. All schools in the TDSB have automatic locks on their doors, but MS1 administrators tried to allow more open access to families. Parents and administrators at MS2 commented that their front entrance was small, not welcoming, and inaccessible for people using wheelchairs or strollers. MS2 parents spoke highly of a now-retired school custodian who was particularly approachable and involved with the school. Still, some parents at both schools did not feel welcomed.

Participants discussed ways that schools fostered a culture of care among staff and families. MS1 administrators interpreted a culture of care as demonstrating that the school cared about family and community well-being, social justice, and student achievement. MS2 administrators interpreted a culture of care as fostering caring, trusting relationships between school staff and families. MS1 administrators fostered their culture of care by including it in conversations with students and families, the school newsletter, and in school announcements. In 2014, MS2 parents and administrators referred to some distrust between families and school staff; administrators attributed this to past traumas or negative experiences with schools among parents, whereas parents said it was related to power dynamics and a lack of communication. In 2019, MS2 administrators discussed specific strategies to encourage trusting relationships, including establishing the office as a safe space for students and families and taking time to build positive relationships with each family.

Both schools encouraged communication with families using flyers, newsletters, phone calls with families, emails, social media, informal conversations, and more formal events. The parent council was a key way parents could bring concerns to the attention of the school at MS1.

Participants, especially at MS1, said that school staff, including administrators as well as other TDSB and MSIC staff, encouraged parent leadership and advocacy within the school. Schools offered opportunities for parents to serve as leaders, make decisions, and advocate for themselves and community causes. At MS1, the parent council was a key avenue for parent leadership. Parents described the MSIC Community Support Worker and administrators as co-leaders in the parent council. MS2 parents did not take on leadership roles in terms of school or community initiatives as MS1 parents did.

Parents at both schools felt that leadership presence in the community helped the school play an active role in the larger community. For example, in 2019, MS2 administrators hosted parent council nights and an intergenerational book club in a local apartment building after noticing that it was difficult for some families to get to the school in the evenings. This demonstrated to families that school staff were working to be a part of the larger community.

Participants identified several ways school staff and administrators established their schools a social and cultural broker, helping families connect with and navigate information and services in social, health, and educational systems. Parents and administrators identified Community Support Workers and TDSB Settlement Workers as key supports, particularly for newcomer families navigating Canadian health, education, and social systems. Still, some parents at both schools felt the schools could be more supportive of newcomer families, e.g., by providing translators and information about Canadian educational systems.

Finally, participants reported that administrators leveraged their community partnerships and their own social capital to address systemic inequities. For example, MS1 administrators referred to partnering with universities, hospitals, and not-for-profit organizations to address systematic racism by offering professional development focused on anti-oppression and anti-racism for staff and targeted school-based programs for racialized students and their families. MS2 administrators spoke less about specific partnerships to address systemic racism, but noted they were beginning to organize professional development for staff members focused on Black student excellence and anti-bias training as part of a larger, board-wide initiative. MS2 parents wanted more relevant parent programming to address systemic issues like unemployment, food insecurity, addiction, and teen pregnancy. They noted that programming at the school (e.g., parent events focused on literacy) were ‘band-aid’ solutions that did not address the root problems, and felt the school had the potential to help address generational cycles of poverty, addiction, and other social justice concerns. How administrators viewed social justice seemed to affect how schools addressed systemic inequities. MS1 administrators noted that equity was at the centre of their work and often referred to social justice in conversations with families. They felt that by expressing their intention to create more equitable educational and social systems, they helped parents view the school as an ally that cares about their children, family, and community.

What are the takeaways from this study? 

The leadership practices highlighted in this study are particularly important in this time of increasing advocacy for anti-racism, anti-oppression, and justice in systems such as education that can reproduce – or help combat – classism, racism, ableism, and social inequities. The findings have implications for school-family-community partnership practices, school leadership strategies in marginalized communities, system-level decision-making about the distribution of services and resources for students and families, and ultimately, how schools and education systems can create more equitable schools and communities. 

Click here to read more about the study.

To read more about the TDSB’s MSIC initiative and GEEC’s research, click here.

Document citation: 

Cummins, N. & Patel, S. (2021). School leadership and family-school-community partnerships: Knowledge mobilization summary report. Toronto, ON: School of Early Childhood Studies, Ryerson University.

This is an ongoing study funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Partnership for Change: The RBC Immigrant, Diversity and Inclusion Project, Ryerson University, and the Toronto District School Board.  

Student and Teacher Perspectives on Safety and Inner-City Neighbourhood Change

What do students and teachers in a Canadian inner-city neighbourhood think about safety within the context of neighbourhood revitalization and school redesign? 

Method

This qualitative study investigated student and teacher perceptions of safety while living or working in a neighbourhood undergoing revitalization while a local school redesign initiative also took place. Focus groups took place at two school sites that were impacted by the recently completed school redesign initiative: (1) the newly redesigned school (RS), and (2) a neighbourhood feeder school (FS1).

Violence and Safety in Schools

At RS, both returning and new students generally felt that the school provided them with an enhanced sense of security, in comparison to their feelings of safety within the community at large. However, a large number of students reported that the level of safety decreased in RS, partly due to perceived greater permeability of the building and grounds, and partly due to the violent behavior of some individuals in the neighbourhood.

Bullying & Fights in the School Setting

Given the unique circumstances relating to the ongoing construction work and changing structure of the neighbourhood, including disruption of place based familiarity and social bonds, new relationships and situations evolved that may have fostered bullying and victimization, as bullying was seen to be a pervasive problem amongst students in all the neighbourhood schools. Fights in the school setting were also reported by a number of students. 

Gang Activity, Neighbourhood Crime & Community Safety 

A number of junior and intermediate students in both FS1 and RS spoke about gang activity in the community. Students’ perceptions of gang activity in the neighbourhood were mixed, where some felt the presence of gangs had diminished, and others felt gangs in the neighborhood were active. Some junior and intermediate students also remarked on issues of territory in the neighborhood and rivalry between schools, with the different groups of students coming together in RS and FS1 due to school redesign. A number of students at both schools believed that the rate of crime in the neighborhood had not been reduced as a result of revitalization and the ongoing construction work itself raised concerns about safety among students.

What are the takeaways from this study? Students’ feelings of safety are related both to their social environment and the built environment. Student and staff voices matter and should be included in both neighbourhood redevelopment and school redesign initiatives.

This report is based on focus groups with students (aged 4 to 13), divided into Primary, Junior, and Intermediate grade groupings, and focus groups with teachers in 2013 and 2014. 

Click here to read more about student and school staff perspectives on safety during the school redesign.

To read more about the School Redesign and Neighbourhood Redevelopment: A longitudinal study of education success and well-being study,click here.

Document citation: Patel, S., Ranjbar M., Cummins, T., & Cummins, N. (2021). Safety and inner city neighbourhood change: Student and teacher perspectives. Education and Urban Society, 1-22. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/00131245211004553.

Throwback Thursday: AERA 2021

Between April 8 and 12, 2021, educators, researchers and community members virtually met for the American Educational Research Association (AERA) annual meeting. This year’s theme was, ‘Accepting Educational Responsibility’. Dr. Sejal Patel and Maria Yau shared about their community engaged research project studying a large urban school board’s initiative on inner-city students and its structural supports for learning coaches as part of the session.

About Maria Yau

Maria Yee-man Yau was an educational researcher associated with the TDSB for over 30 years. She is currently an educational research consultant working on projects at municipal, provincial and national levels. Maria’s years of research have covered a wide range of equity related issues including understanding and addressing the needs of immigrant and refugee populations, students from diverse racialized backgrounds, English Language Learners, international students, students with disabilities, and low socioeconomic communities. Aside from research, Maria sits on the board of directors of a charitable organization in support of immigrant youth, mentors young people in the workplace and the community, and supports rural education and youth development globally.

Reflections from the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s learning, inequities and speaking up against injustice

It is hard to believe that it has been almost one and a half years since the initial shutdown in Ontario due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am thinking of children and families who have been experiencing the stress of the pandemic, including challenges with virtual schooling and isolation. During this time, many have lost loved ones due to the pandemic or other reasons, and have had to find new ways of coping with loss due to the circumstances. What we have also seen as a society is how the pandemic is exacerbating existing inequities in profound ways.

During this time, Canada was also confronted with its devastating history and continued systemic discrimination. 

I am thinking of and mourning the horrific discovery of the remains of children at residential schools across Canada. As a child of newcomers who was educated in Canada, I feel we need to do better at teaching about the truths of our horrific Canadian history and ongoing impacts of colonialism, and we need to continue to learn from Indigenous communities as we work towards dismantling Anti-Indigenous racism, and move towards Truth and Reconciliation. 

I am thinking of the horrific acts of anti-Black racism and victims of police violence here and abroad. I am committed to learning from members of the Black community and stand in solidarity against anti-Black racism. 

I am thinking of the hate crime in London, Ontario against a family of five that was the horrific result of Islamophobia. I am thinking of horrific acts of anti-Asian racism during the pandemic. I am thinking of rising incidents of anti-semitism and religion or belief discrimination. I am deeply and personally committed to dismantling racism, along with discrimination of all forms. I am also thinking of diverse LGBTQ2S+ communities, standing in solidarity against violence and in a spirit of acceptance.

As we think of ways forward, I think of a young 3-year-old child whom I witnessed walking alone towards a major busy intersection, and an elderly neighbour who helped walk her back to her home where her parents were busy working from home with their two young children. I think of a community in mourning at the loss of two special young children and the way that family and friends are trying to come together. I think of families finding new ways to juggle, cope and thrive. I think of students who have persevered in their studies.  I think of educators, teachers and professors committed to equity, diversity and inclusion trying to take steps towards curriculum change.

While there is much work to be done and a long road ahead in making systemic and structural changes, I believe that we can make great strides if we come together. It does take “a village” and we all need to support one another, working together to continue forward in a good way. 

— Sejal Patel, Ph.D.

What programs, services and supports are available for newcomer and culturally diverse families in the Model Schools for Inner Cities initiative?

What are the challenges experienced by newcomer and culturally diverse families?

Newcomer and culturally diverse families can face unique challenges and marginalization, particularly as it relates to learning how to navigate the education system in Canada. The Model Schools for Inner Cities (MSIC) initiative aims to support all families and reduce inequities in their children’s educational success and well-being through innovation in public education. Programs and resources offered board-wide, through MSIC, and at the local school-level contribute to diverse families’ sense of well-being and belonging in their schools and communities. 

Our approach

Researchers spoke to TDSB administrators and parents in 2019 to gather their perspectives on the MSIC Initiative. They were asked specifically about what their school was doing to engage newcomer and culturally diverse families.

Findings

The following categories of programming, services, and supports were noted as contributing to newcomer and culturally diverse families’ sense of well-being:

  • Child and/or family focused programming and supports
  • Health and nutrition programming
  • Community outreach and getting to know families
  • Supporting settlement
  • Celebrating diversity
  • Equity-focused staff professional development and training

Recommendations and Implications for Practice

Equity, community, inclusiveness, and expectations are the goals of MSIC1. These principles can be exemplified and enhanced through the school-based MSIC and board-wide programs and services aimed at improving health and well-being for newcomer and culturally diverse families. Findings demonstrate that MSIC’s philosophy along with its enriched program features help to provide comprehensive supports for students and families from newcomer and culturally diverse communities.

  • Positive family-staff relationships and open communication are vital to newcomer and culturally diverse family engagement. A welcoming and supportive school culture helps families to feel that they are not alone. 
  • Professional development for staff is needed, including conversations related to power and privilege, identity, anti-oppression and anti-Black racism. Families emphasize the importance of educators and administrators understanding how their own identity and privilege can influence their teaching and work.
  • Celebrations and acknowledgement of diversity are an important way to showcase various cultures and ethnicities and can contribute to an increased sense of belonging. 
  • Including the voices of newcomer and culturally diverse families in decision making around school and educational policy is key to upholding the goals of MSIC, and should help to inform practice in schools and communities. 
  • Results highlight the importance of school staff outreach and getting to know your community of families.

1. Toronto District School Board. (2005, May). Model Schools for Inner Cities task force report. Retrieved February 13, 2019 from: http:// www.tdsb.on.ca/Portals/0/ Community/ModelSchools/ InnerCityReportMay2005.pdf 

Click here to read more about programs, services and supports for newcomer and culturally diverse families within MSIC.

To read more about the TDSB’s MSIC initiative, and GEEC’s research, click here.

Document citation: Patel, S., Bemister, K. & Yau, M. (2020). Programs, Services and Supports for Newcomer and Culturally Diverse Families within Model Schools for Inner Cities (MSIC): Knowledge mobilization summary report. Toronto, ON: School of Early Childhood Studies, Ryerson University

This is an ongoing study funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Partnership for Change: The RBC Immigrant, Diversity and Inclusion Project, Ryerson University, and the Toronto District School Board.  

Dr. Sejal Patel’s Q&A with the Toronto Star

Article: Coronavirus Q&A: Focus on children’s “social and emotional well-being” Education researcher answers questions on parenting during COVID-19 | Toronto Star

As parents underwent virtual learning challenges in Spring 2020, the Toronto Star invited Dr. Sejal Patel to chat with Star readers who had questions about education during this unprecedented time.

Parents and caregivers shared their questions about how to keep children engaged with online learning and how to socialize young children in a time where social distancing measures were recommended. 

In the Q&A Dr. Patel acknowledged that online learning while maintaining social distancing may increase inequities for children and families with certain families and communities not gaining as much from virtual learning due to their circumstances. She noted that we will have to pay attention to this as a society, working together to support one another, building upon strengths and monitoring progress once we are through the period of distancing (Patel, 2020). Read the full interview here.

In 2016, Dr. Patel published findings from a study investigating the relations between participation in integrated early childhood services and children’s early development. The findings have implications for our circumstances today, with more equitable learning outcomes for 4 and 5 year old children who had greater participation in integrated early childhood programming (including full day kindergarten) in terms of children’s physical health and well-being, language and cognitive development and communication and general knowledge, after taking into consideration demographic, parent and school site factors. 

Access the full study, ‘Dose-response’ relations between participation in integrated early childhood services and children’s early development, here.

References

Patel, S. (2020, April 6) Coronavirus Q&A: Focus on children’s “social and emotional well-being” Education researcher answers questions on parenting during COVID-19. The Toronto Star. https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2020/04/06/coronavirus-q-and-a-home-schooling-worries-toronto-early-childhood-researcher-will-answer-your-questions-thursday-at-130-pm-et.html.

Patel, S., Corter, C., Pelletier, J., & Bertrand, J. (2016). ‘Dose-response’ relations between participation in integrated early childhood services and children’s early development. Early Childhood Research Quarterly35(Complete), 49–62. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2015.12.006

We stand in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter

Enough is enough.

As a research team with an ongoing commitment to greater equity in early education and care for children, families and communities, GEEC stands in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter in fighting for justice against police brutality, systemic racism and racial inequity.

We remain dedicated to fighting discrimination and racism of all forms, with a focus on the experiences of children and families in racialized groups, including members of Black and Indigenous communities, and those who live in marginalized communities.

We will continue to engage in dialogue, stand in solidarity with and learn from members of the Black community and share the voices of community through community engaged research with a focus on advocacy, practice and policy change. 

Image citations:

Image #1 - TOP LEFT - Blue and black wordcloud in the shape of a teardrop. [Black Lives Matter word cloud]. (n.d.). https://www.123rf.com/photo_93815577_stock-vector-black-lives-matter-word-cloud-on-a-white-background-.html 

Image #2 - BOTTOM LEFT - Black and white photograph of a man holding up the peace sign in front of police officers. Montgomery, P. (n.d.). Get up, Stand Up [digital]. Wired. https://www.wired.com/2015/10/how-black-lives-matter-uses-social-media-to-fight-the-power/ - 

Image #3 - TOP RIGHT - Drawing of 3 fists raised high, with #BlackLivesMatter image printed overtop.#BlackLivesMatter [digital]. Building Union Power. https://buildingunionpower.ca 

Image #4 - MIDDLE RIGHT - Drawing of woman and child sitting on steps; 'Black Lives Matter' printed on the woman's shirt. Wong, P. (2016). Milo’s Museum [Children’s book]. Teaching for Change. https://www.teachingforchange.org/seven-things-learned-black-lives-matter-week 

Image #5 - BOTTOM RIGHT - Black and white image of protesters, with 'enough is enough' written in capital letters. Enough is Enough [digital]. Black Lives Matter. https://blacklivesmatter.com/social-media-graphics/

Dr. Sejal Patel speaks to the Toronto Star about homeschooling and parenting amid the COVID-19 pandemic

On April 1, Dr. Sejal Patel who leads the GEEC Research team spoke on the Toronto Star’s new podcast, This Matters, about parenting in the age of the coronavirus.

In the episode, host Saba Eitizaz speaks with Patel, an associate professor of Early Childhood Studies at Ryerson University—and a parent herself—about ways to cope and keep kids engaged during this difficult time.

Listen to Patel’s advice on how to navigate as a parent during this difficult transition.

On Thursday, April 10, Patel will also be answering questions about parenting and home-schooling in the age of COVID-19 at the Toronto Star here.

You can also listen to the episode on Apple PodcastsSpotify.

How does school redesign affect student and school staff safety?

Quote

This blog post is part of the School redesign and neighbourhood redevelopment: A longitudinal study of educational success and well-being study. To learn more about the larger study, visit our projects

How does school redesign affect student and school staff safety?

Safety signs posted outside school doors in the redeveloping neighbourhood.

How do students, school staff, parents and school-based key informants view safety during school redesign?

School Safety During the Transitional Period

During the school redesign process when the Redesign School students were transferred to feeder schools (FS1 and FS2) while the school was under construction, many students reported bullying incidents between the two student groups. Some mentioned that the presence of teachers was helpful, but that more intervention was needed for a smoother, safer transition. Some students and school staff believe it was the issue of territory and school rivalry that caused the bullying and physical fights.

School Safety in the New Redesign School

Upon returning to the newly-redesigned school, many of the older students felt safe in the new building because of the new alarms, better security cameras, emergency lights, smoke detectors, sprinklers and places to hide during a lockdown. They also felt that less fights were occurring because of new play equipment and because the school yard was more easily monitored by staff.

Many school staff found that the reopening of the school resulted in fewer behavioural incidents and improved safety with new equipment and play areas. The newly redesigned school included large floor to ceiling windows. Both students and staff reported the large windows as a safety concern. Some staff and younger students felt less protected because of how exposed they felt to the outside neighbourhood.

Many students reported that their feelings of being unsafe in school were associated with losing friends as a result of the process of neighbourhood redevelopment and relocation ongoing in the community.

What are the takeaways from this study? Students’ feelings of safety are related both to the feeling of support they have from school staff and the built environment. Students and staff perspectives matter and should be included in both neighbourhood redevelopment and school redesign projects.

This report is based on focus groups with students (aged 4 to 13), divided into Primary, Junior, and Intermediate grade groupings, and focus groups with teachers in 2013 and 2014.

Click here to read more about student and school staff perspectives on safety during the school redesign.

To read more about the School Redesign and Neighbourhood Redevelopment: A longitudinal study of education success and well-being study,click here.

Document citation: Patel, S., Ranjbar M., Cummins, T., & Cummins, N.(in press). Safety and inner city neighbourhood redevelopment: Student and teacher perspectives. Education and Urban Society.

Meet the GEEC team: Krissy Bemister

Meet Krissy Bemister, a Research Project Manager leading GEEC’s Model Schools for Inner Cities Research Team. Krissy completed her Psychology B.A. degree in 2018. Her undergraduate thesis, along with her more recent Research Assistant experiences in two projects based out of OISE investigating reading interventions and full day kindergarten, solidified her passion for research methods and applications.

Krissy is now pursuing her M.A. in Psychology at Ryerson University, where she investigates face and emotion perception in infancy.

Krissy is enthused by the potential to contribute to real change at the ground level for children in marginalized communities through her work in the GEEC research group.

Krissy has also had practical experience working with children ages 3 to 18 in an educational program, as well as through her array of research experiences. She utilizes her research skills on the GEEC team and expands her knowledge about community-engaged research and qualitative methods.

In the GEEC Team, Krissy is currently working on mobilizing data from the MSIC: Reducing inequities in children’s educational success and family well-being in marginalized communities through innovation in public education project. What she finds most compelling about this study is hearing about people’s lived experiences, especially their experiences with education.