Dear Premier Ford and Minister Lecce,
My name is Adam Essien. I'm a resident of Stoney Creek, and the father of two children who attend schools in the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board. You have mentioned many times that all ideas that pertain to education are "on the table", and I would like to propose such an idea to you. It's similar to ideas proposed that make use of community space outside of the school environment; however, this idea also largely addresses the additional staffing requirements and provides a safe and unique learning opportunity for students without the significant additional financial outlay associated with other proposals.
How could we provide such a unique learning opportunity, you ask? We can provide such an opportunity by reimagining what we consider to be a classroom and working with the not-for-profit sector to develop co-operative programming for high school students. The not-for-profit sector has suffered a great deal during the pandemic; organizations have been unable to raise funds and deliver programming at 2019 levels due to the financial and physical constraints that we all have had to endure. Allowing students to assist not-for-profits would serve as a "Made in Ontario" education solution to help not-for-profits restore functionality and financial capabilities and in some cases may even help them survive the pandemic.
Obviously, high school students have had these opportunities before; the co-operative model is by no means new in and of itself. However, additional incentives can be provided for students and not-for-profits in this case that would reflect the unique circumstances that the pandemic has created.
Student Incentives: in order to encourage students to participate in this program, they can be presented with two options to choose from.
1) Students can not only receive a co-op credit for participating in this program, but can also consider participation in this course as the completion of the OSSD 40 hours of volunteer service requirement.
2) Students can opt to consider the co-operative credit as a mandatory course credit if applicable. For example, a student participating in a co-operative at a children's hospital could be deemed as having completed a science course. A student involved in preparing marketing materials for a not-for-profit can assign their credit to arts or business. There are a myriad of other possibilities as well, and we're limited only to our imaginations as a province in that regard.
Not-for-profit Incentive: besides the obvious incentive of having an engaged student base to assist with needed work, not-for-profits can also potentially be engaged to participate by receiving a portion of the students' Grants for Student Needs (GSN) money in exchange for acting as temporary student instructors and providing students with real-world application experience that they would not otherwise have had. Utilizing GSN money would allow not-for-profits to be able to stay afloat during troubled times and does not require an additional outlay from the provincial government in order to do so.
Creative utilization of community partnerships beyond simply those of space and encouraging and incentivizes high school students to help our community partners promotes civic responsibility, helps those in need, and increases our educational capacity at a very low cost. Consider if you will some of the organizations that could benefit from such partnerships:
- Hospitals, particularly children's hospitals
- Animal shelters/rescues (after all, animals still need just as much care and love during a pandemic as they do at any other time)
- Community living and similar organizations
- Government agencies; you could even think of ways to implement such programming in Queen's Park if you felt so inclined
Depending on a particular community partnership, physical space may not be needed to accommodate the students; many co-operative programs could potentially be done online. For example, a research institution may wish to engage students as recruiters or data organizers. A not-for-profit may wish to have students assist with marketing and social media. An "e-co-op" program would further increase the capacity for students to participate and open up an additional range of possibilities.
If we could encourage enough students and not-for-profits to participate, this would open up physical space in high schools and allow students in the 8th and possibly the 7th and 6th grades to take advantage of said unused space. High school teachers could educate 6th-8th grades during the pandemic and few if any additional teachers/cleaning staff/etc. would be required.
Obviously time is of the essence, and I recognize that there is just under a month until school starts, making the implementation of such an idea somewhat more difficult. I don't believe this to be an insurmountable obstacle, however; you could reuse the concept of the Ontario Together Portal as a not-for-profit and student recruitment tool. Students could be paired with not-for-profits based on matching and this idea could be rolled out within a matter of a couple of weeks.
As you can see, this idea would not only allow for greater physical distancing in schools, but would allow for not-for-profit organizations to receive needed supports during the pandemic and possibly beyond. There is a great deal of benefit to be realized, and at a very low financial outlay. I look forward to discussing the implementation of this idea with you soon. Please call or text me. Thank you.