Problem: High school dropout rates in Canadian provinces tend to be between 20% and 30%, but reach 50% to 70% in communities with low socioeconomic status. One of the main factors is the low-income of parents who do not have the financial resources to enable the children to stay in school and succeed in their studies. Others suffer from a lack of positive models and support at home. As a result, they end up being attracted to activities with low salaries, become citizens with a low level of participation and a less active role in the society, with less capacity to contribute by paying taxes, worse health conditions and a greater necessity for assistance from social services. This leads to a cycle of poverty that passes from one generation to the next and to a community with a culture of failure. The project was created in 2001 by the nurse, Carolyn Acker, whose aim was to change this reality by offering academic, social and financial support to the students, outside school hours.
Solutions: Four nights per week the youngsters participate in an academic tutoring program with volunteers who give them personalised guidance for their careers and work on developing social skills such as responsibility and confidence. They also receive counselling on resolving conflicts. If necessary, there are conversations with school employees, teachers and parents. The youngsters receive financial support to pay for transport and meals and get a study grant for studies after completing high school. To guarantee commitment, parents and students have to enrol in the program and sign a document promising that they will participate. Communities interested in acquiring the program can request help after verifying a high school dropout rate and collectively expressing interest in the initiative. The organization passes knowledge and resources to other institutions so they can replicate the model.
Outcomes: Students become more responsible, gain confidence and start setting goals for their lives. In the Regent Park district in Toronto, where the Project began, high school dropout rates fell by over 70%. The rate of students that went on to higher education increased 300%. Each dollar invested in the program generates US$ 24 in social return. The project has spread and is currently benefiting youngsters in several regions of Canada, with financial support from the government and donators. The project now has 5,200 students enrolled in 17 locations and over 3,000 graduated participants. The program was one of the winners of the 2013 Wise Awards.