Feedback is in, and the Simcoe County District School Board’s hiring of two graduation coaches for Black students last year has been a success, according to students who have accessed the resource.
However, feedback received by some trustees brought forward concerns of “exclusion” of other groups.
In February 2021, as part of a Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB) led initiative, two graduation coaches for Black students were hired as a pilot project to support students at Nantyr Shores Secondary School in Innisfil and Bradford District High School.
This year, about 100 students who used the program from the two schools were surveyed, and about 50 students provided feedback. As a result of the feedback, the SCDSB is now planning to expand the program over the next three years with a continued focus on students with a racialized identity and students who identify as LGBTQ. Student census data will be used by the public school board to inform where and to which groups the program will be expanded next.
The feedback was presented to trustees as part of their program standing committee meeting on Wednesday.
“My graduation coach helped me see my value,” noted one student.
“I had a wonderful experience and honestly, I don’t think I would be where I am if it wasn’t for my graduation coach. They really pushed me to be the best I can be,” said another.
According to the feedback, 92 per cent of students reported that their graduation coach made them feel like they belong, while 92 per cent of students reported that their coach is an important person in their life.
About 89 per cent of students reported that their coach motivated them to do their best, while 94 per cent reported that their coach provided them with the support they needed to be successful in school.
Each coach interacts with more than 70 students at each site with referrals and requests coming from other secondary schools.
“We continue to witness the impact of the work which the coaches have achieved,” said superintendent of education Dean Maltby.
Innisfil trustee Donna Armstrong said she has received feedback from families that the name for the position – as graduation coaches for Black students – was racist.
“(I heard), ‘My child is of a different racial identity, where is my child’s graduation coach?’” said Armstrong. “Communication is...vital. It makes it look like it’s very exclusive.”
Student trustee Ife Oluwatayo responded to Armstrong’s concerns.
“Personally, a response I would give is that the success of the Black graduation coaches would then prompt other marginalized (group) coaches to be brought forward to the board in order to help all the marginalized groups. It’s not a case where this is the only one that’s ever going to happen,” he said. “This is a case where, we’re starting off with this and when we succeed here, we can bring more.”
“This is something they should be happy about because the board is taking this step,” said Oluwatayo.
Maltby said the pilot-project coaches were hired specifically for Black students because that group is most typically marginalized within education.
“It’s important to look at issues from more than one lens,” said Barrie trustee Lisa-Marie Wilson. “There are reasons we’re doing this, and it’s important to name it.”
Orillia/Ramara/Severn trustee Jodi Lloyd said the program is an incredibly positive step forward.
“I think it’s very important that we don’t look at one-model-fits-all because all groups are not the same,” she said. “There’s always resistance to change, but the feedback from the students themselves is critically important.”