American Educational Research Association 2019 (AERA)

Dr. Sejal Patel of GEEC Research (left), and TDSB Research Coordinator Maria Yau present their research investigating the ‘mechanisms of change’ in the TDSB’s Model Schools for Inner Cities initiative.

Between April 5 and 9, over 15,000 educators and researchers met in Toronto for the 2019 American Educational Research Association annual meeting. This year’s theme was ‘Leveraging education research in a ‘post-truth era: Multimodal narratives to democratize evidence,’ with a focus on community and practice relevant research. Dr. Sejal Patel and Maria Yau, Research Coordinator, Research & Development, Toronto District School Board shared about the TDSB’s Model Schools in Inner Cities program and their study, Reducing Inequities in Children’s Education Success and Well-being in Marginalized Communities through Innovation in Education as a part of the Equity Innovation in Teaching and Learning session held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Welcome to GEEC

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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

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.

Model schools student and school staff perspectives on parental involvement and home support for students

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. 

The Model Schools for Inner Cities (MSIC) initiative aims to reduce inequities and achievement gaps for students living in low socioeconomic communities by providing additional school-based supports and services (TDSB, 2017). The MSIC initiative offers a variety of in-school health and educational support services, additional staff to support student academic success and wellbeing, and additional teaching and learning resources for staff. An essential objective of the MSIC initiative is to establish the school as the heart of the community, where parents and community members are viewed as partners in students’ learning and success. To support family and community involvement in schools, MSIC schools often have partnerships with community agencies to offer programming in schools and Community Support Workers at each school act as liaisons between the community and the school. In addition, the Parent Academy, led by parents in MSIC schools, have hosted parent conferences and workshops to support the school community (Yau, Archer, & Romard, 2018). To read more about the MSIC initiative, click here.


Student artwork at the redesign school.

In our research, we spoke with students and school staff in 2013 and 2014 to learn more about their perspectives on family involvement both in school and at home. We found that most students said that their parents and caregivers were involved at home and helped them with their homework. Other students said that their parents were unable to help, because they were unable to speak English or were too busy.

School staff said that families were involved with school issues. For example, at one school, parents voiced their concerns over Wi-Fi being installed in classrooms. Staff also discussed school and community-based programs that encouraged parent involvement. These programs included school-based preschool services along with free programs and activities in the community.

This research shows that culturally diverse parents may tend to focus their involvement in their children’s education at home as opposed to physically volunteering in schools Patel, 2018; Patel & Corter, 2013). The MSIC initiative continues to strengthen school-family-community partnerships through programs such as the Parent Academy, which aims to empower parents to share resources about student learning and education and provides opportunities for personal and professional development for parents. Programs such as these can foster family involvement in students’ educational success and well-being and a closer two-way communication between families and schools.

We held focus groups in 2013 and 2014 with students (ages 4 to 13) and their teachers.

References

Patel, S. (2018). Student and teacher perspectives on Model Schools for Inner Cities: Knowledge mobilization summary report. Toronto, ON: School of Early Childhood Studies, Ryerson University

Patel, S., & Corter, C. (2013a). Building capacity for parent involvement through school-based preschool services. Early Child Development and Care, 183(7), 981−1004.  DOI:10.1080/03004430.2012.701625

Toronto District School Board [TDSB]. (2017). Enhancing Equity Task Force: Report and recommendations. Retrieved on February 13, 2019 from Toronto, ON: Author. Retrieved from: http://www.tdsb.on.ca/Portals/0/community/docs/EETFReportPdfVersion.pdf

Yau, M., Archer, B., & Romard, R. (2018). Model Schools for Inner Cities: A 10-Year Overview. Toronto, ON: Toronto District School Board.

Click here to read more about student and teacher perspectives on the MSIC initiative.

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

Document citation: Patel, S. (2018). Student and teacher perspectives on Model Schools for Inner Cities: Knowledge mobilization summary report. Toronto, ON: School of Early Childhood Studies, Ryerson University.

For further information regarding the overall project see: Patel, S. (2016). School redesign and neighbourhood redevelopment: 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 and in partnership with the City of Toronto (Children’s Services), Toronto Community Housing Corporation, Toronto District School Board, Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study (University of Toronto), Housing Services Corporation, and the Centre for Urban Health Solutions (St. Michael’s Hospital). We will continue to share more updates about our ongoing projects soon.


Meet the GEEC team: Dr. Sejal Patel

Dr. Sejal Patel of the GEEC Research Team.

Meet Dr. Sejal Patel, an Associate Professor in Early Childhood Studies, in the Faculty of Community Services at Ryerson University. With training in developmental psychology and education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto, Dr. Patel held Canadian Institutes of Health Research Strategic Training and Peterborough K.M. Hunter Charitable Foundation post-doctoral fellowships at the Centre for Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael’s Hospital. She is an Affiliate Scientist in the Keenan Research Centre of the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital.

Dr. Patel’s research investigates the effects of innovation in (1) service provision and education, and (2) the designed environment, on inequities in children’s educational success and well-being. Her research on educational success and well-being considers children’s physical, language, cognitive, social, and emotional development. As a community-engaged scholar, Dr. Patel pursues her professional goals by collaborating with community partners to carry out intervention research with marginalized populations to help reduce inner city disparities, and to mobilize knowledge to help inform local practice and public policy.

Here are Dr. Patel and the GEEC team’s current projects:

  • School redesign and neighbourhood redevelopment: A study of educational success, families, and equity (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council [SSHRC] funded, Primary Investigator)
  • Reducing inequities in children’s educational success and family well-being in marginalized communities through innovation in public education (SSHRC funded, Primary Investigator)
  • Full-day kindergarten: Longitudinal effects on children’s educational success and well-being (SSHRC funded, Co-Investigator)

Meet the GEEC team: Natalie Cummins

Natalie Cummins, Research Project Manager

Natalie Cummins is a Registered Early Childhood Educator (RECE) with a Masters in Environmental Studies who has worked with the GEEC research team for six years. What excites her about this this collaborative research group is the opportunity to “contribute to research that aims to reduce inequities for children and families.” Currently, she is the Research Project Manager for the School redesign and neighbourhood redevelopment: A longitudinal study of educational success families and equity and Reducing inequities in children’s educational success and family well-being in marginalized communities through innovation in public education projects.

After completing her Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Studies at Ryerson University, Natalie worked at Ryerson University’s Gerrard Resource Centre (GRC), Canada’s only university-based family support program, to develop environmental programs for children and families. In the program families explore their local parks through stories, hikes, play and inquiry-based activities. Natalie is also currently a RECE, Family Supports in the EarlyON program at the GRC.

Natalie’s graduate community-based participatory research project titled Semilla: A Community-University Partnership for Environmental Education brought together the voices of community members, students and school staff in the Alexander Skutch Biological Corridor in Costa Rica to co-develop an environmental education resource and highlight promising practices in community-university collaboration.  You can read more about Natalie’s work here.

In GEEC Research, Natalie has been an integral part of the team. Most recently, she worked with Dr. Sejal Patel on a paper published in the journal Improving Schools titled Student and Staff Social Dynamics and Transitions during School Redesign.

Meet the GEEC team: Katherine Benvenuto

Katherine Benvenuto, GEEC Research Assistant

Meet Katherine Benvenuto, a Research Assistant on the GEEC team. Katherine studied Psychology at York University. She chose to study psychology because of her interest in mental health, which eventually led her to find her passion in research design, specifically research methods and data analysis. Katherine has worked with the City of Toronto’s Parks and Recreation department where she guided community residents in navigating school and community institutions, and find resources. Currently, Katherine works with the GEEC Research team as a Research Assistant.

In the GEEC team, Katherine is excited to combine her experience working in communities with her passion for research design. Katherine is interested in the use of innovative research methods in community-engaged research. “I strongly believe that individuals’ actual experiences and voice adds context and value to the research you are doing,” she says. Currently, Katherine is working with the team to analyze data collected in the Reducing inequities in children’s educational success and family well-being in marginalized communities through innovation in public education project. What she likes most about this type of research is that it isn’t only for an academic audience but also works to mobilize findings with communities and has the potential to impact community members’ daily lives.

Earlier this year at GEEC, Katherine assisted with the School redesign and neighbourhood redevelopment: A longitudinal study of education success and well-being project. What she learned from this study was the potential impact of the physical built environment on healthy child development and child and family services.

MSIC: Reducing inequities in children’s educational success and family well-being in marginalized communities through innovation in public education

How can marginalized communities be supported through innovation in public education?

The Reducing inequities in children’s educational success and family well-being in marginalized communities through public education investigates how the Toronto District School Board’s (TDSB) comprehensive, multi-pronged, system focused, and holistic Model Schools for Inner Cities (MSIC) initiative works and what initial conditions and program features help contribute to sustainable improvement in marginalized students’ educational success and family well-being.

“We are proud to be a Model School for Inner Cities,” school poster reads.

What is Model Schools for Inner Cities?

In an effort to level the playing field for all students, the TDSB’s MSIC initiative was launched in 2006. The MSIC initiative aims to reduce inequities and achievement gaps for students in low socioeconomic communities by providing additional school-based supports and services for students in Toronto communities with the highest needs. The TDSB began with four pilot school sites in the first year, which then expanded to over 150 schools six years later serving over 56 000 students in low socioeconomic communities (Kugler, 2007; Toronto District School Board, 2005). Grounded in maintaining high expectations for students and promoting a vision of achieving excellence, the MSIC initiative is guided by five essential components:

  1. Innovation in teaching and learning practices
  2. Support services to meet the social, emotional, and physical well-being of students
  3. Supporting the view of the school as the heart of the community
  4. Frequent research, review, and evaluation of students and program effectiveness
  5. Commitment to share successful practices
At a MSIC school, there are also services for parents, such as the Parenting and Family Literacy Centre.

The MSIC initiative offers a variety of services, supports, and resources for students and families in MSIC schools including:

  • Health and educational support services (e.g., nutrition programs, free vision and hearing tests, in-school health clinics, before- and after- school programs)
  • EarlyON Centres (school-based drop-in programs for parents with young children)
  • Parent Academy (a program that provides an opportunity for parent representatives to organize and offer locally relevant parenting and workforce development workshops)
  • Additional staff to support student academic success and wellbeing (e.g., Teaching and Learning Coaches, Community Support Workers, Social Workers)
  • Additional teaching and learning resources (e.g., information technology, MSIC social justice curriculum, ongoing professional development for teachers)
  • Partnerships with community organizations (partnerships with local agencies to offer programming and opportunities to students and families within and outside of school)

Our Approach

To investigate how the MSIC initiative works and its approach to supporting equity in children’s educational success and family well-being, we will work in collaboration with our partners at the Toronto District School Board to conduct:

  • Secondary analysis of qualitative data, including child and staff focus group and interview data collected at five MSIC school sites over time
  • New key informant interviews with school board staff
  • New focus groups with parents at five school sites

After data collection is complete, we will focus on sharing our results with study participants, school community members, and the broader public.

References

Kugler, J. (2007). Inner city model school initiative: A vision for equity and social justice. Orbit36, 4-6.

Toronto District School Board. (2005, May). Model Schools for Inner Cities task force report. Retrieved February 14, 2019 from https://www.tdsb.on.ca/Portals/0/Community/Community%20Advisory%20committees/ICAC/research/InnerCityReportMay2005.pdf

Toronto District School Board, Model Schools for Inner Cities. (2014). Retrieved February 7, 2019, from https://www.tdsb.on.ca/Community/Model-Schools-for-Inner-Cities/Initiatives

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

Document citation: Patel, S. (2019). Reducing inequities in children’s educational success and family well-being in marginalized communities through innovation in
public education: 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.  We will continue to share more updates about our ongoing project soon.

Teaching for Justice: Model Schools for Inner Cities Workshop

In October 2018 at the Teaching for Justice conference in Toronto, the GEEC research group led by Dr. Sejal Patel joined Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Researcher Coordinator Maria Yau and TDSB Model Schools for Inner Cities (MSIC) Program Coordinator Alison Rutherford to share about ongoing MSIC research and practices.

The MSIC initiative aims to reduce inequities and achievement gaps for students in low socioeconomic communities by providing additional supports for schools in Toronto communities. The initiative was first piloted in 2006 in three schools and has since grown to include 150 schools serving 56 000 students (Toronto District School Board, 2017). The goals of the initiative focus on equity, community (including partnerships with families), inclusivity and high expectations for students in inner-city schools. The presentation shared findings from research investigating the MSIC initiative and highlighted some of the conditions for the initiative’s success.

From left to right, Dr. Sejal Patel of GEEC research, TDSB Model Schools Coordinator Alison Rutherford, and TDSB Research Coordinator Maria Yau present findings from ongoing MSIC research and practices.

Patel, Yau and Rutherford shared about the programs and services offered by the TDSB’s MSIC initiative that are guided the initiative’s 5 essential components:

  1. Innovation in teaching and learning practices
  2. Support services to meet the social, emotional, and physical well-being of students
  3. Supporting the view of school as the heart of the community
  4. Frequent research, review, and evaluation of students and program effectiveness
  5. Commitment to share successful practices

The MSIC initiative offers additional educational, health, and well-being support services for students and families, such as nutrition programs, in-school health clinics, before and after school programs and hearing and vision assessments. The initiative strives to make schools the heart of their local communities through supporting family-school-community partnerships, by offering family drop-in programs through on-site Parenting and Family Literacy Centres (now EarlyON Centres), and by encouraging school staff to get to know the communities they work in through community visits and faith walks, among other strategies.

Ongoing research and review of the MSIC initiative has highlighted some key areas of success. Research conducted by the TDSB has found a rise in Grade 6 EQAO reading test scores, increased levels of school readiness and improved resiliency scores in MSIC schools over time. In Ryerson University-TDSB community-partnered qualitative research, families and school staff have spoken about the importance of community-school partnerships, Community Support workers, and programs that support children with disabilities, while the children’s voices highlighted the benefits of relationships with staff in the school including the social workers and the benefits of paediatric health clinics in their schools, among numerous other findings.

The presentation concluded with a discussion of the potential conditions for the MSIC initiative’s continued success. Some topics discuss the role of leadership, additional support and resources to level the playing field for all students, and the role of innovative curriculum in raising expectations for students and addressing social justice issues.

The Teaching for Justice Conference is a yearly conference where educators, students, and community partners gather to discuss issues of social justice, share resources, and meet with others who continue to challenge systems of oppression. To read more about the Teaching for Justice Conference and the other presenters, click here.

To read more about the MSIC initiative, click here.

References

Toronto District School Board [TDSB]. (2017). Enhancing Equity Task Force: Report and recommendations. Toronto, ON: Author. Retrieved February 14th, 2019 from: http://www.tdsb.on.ca/Portals/0/community/docs/EETFReportPdfVersion.pdf