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Diversity Institute’s Study Buddy program helps marginalized students in school

By Nishat Chowdhury

The Diversity Institute’s Study Buddy program is creating an “equal playing field” for grade school students from marginalized communities during the era of virtual learning, according to Mohamed Elmi, the director of research at the Diversity Institute. 

The Study Buddy program is a free, online one-on-one tutoring service for students who face additional barriers to their success due to new stresses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Parents and students are paired with tutors who are Ontario teacher candidates from five different universities across the province: Queen’s, Nipissing, Laurentian, University of Toronto and Ontario Tech. 

Students can expect up to three hours per week of free tutoring with subject-specific support from tutors who are fulfilling their practicum requirements. Flexible hours are set by the tutor. 

The program has facilitated more than 5,000 hours of tutoring support for more than 430 students

According to Elmi, 70 to 80 per cent of children using the program are racialized, but it accepts other students as well.

“Our goal is to help anybody in need of support. If they apply, we won’t turn them away,” said Elmi. 

The program is a collaboration between the Diversity Institute at Ryerson University, Ontario Tech University, the Jean Augustine Centre for Young Women’s Empowerment, and the Lifelong Leadership Institute, an organization that encourages leadership development among Black Canadian youth.

Since its debut in May 2020, the program has facilitated more than 5,000 hours of tutoring support for more than 430 students with around 182 tutors, according to the Diversity Institute. 

“A program that provides low cost or free tutoring is essential to create an inclusive and equal playing field for everyone in these crazy times,” said Vanessa Vakharia, founder and CEO of The Math Guru, a math and science tutoring studio in Toronto. 

“One could argue that those kids need more support than anyone.” 

For full-time working parents like Susan Shakes, who is also a teacher herself for the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, the program has helped her two elementary-age daughters stay on top of their school work. The convenience of it being virtual and free of charge are added bonuses. 

“One could argue that those kids need more support than anyone”

She said with most programs, parents will reduce the amount of time their child gets tutored to lower the cost. “Even though you may need more help, it’s very difficult to afford $40 three times a week,” she said. 

According to a StatsCan report released in April 2020 on school closures and the online preparedness of children during the COVID-19 pandemic, lower-income parents tend to be less involved in their children’s academic ventures compared to middle and upper-income families. This is because lower-income parents typically work longer and harder hours, the report reads. In addition, they usually have lower levels of education which prevents them from being able to assist their children in homework.

Fourth-year concurrent education student at Laurentian University and tutor in the Study Buddy program Jamie Hunski said the students he tutored would have not done as well if it weren’t for the extra support of Study Buddy. 

“I saw with my own eyes that they improved a great deal with this program”

Hunski said kids who come from marginalized backgrounds deserve someone compassionate who can help them. 

“I firmly believe that and I saw with my own eyes that they improved a great deal with this program, with somebody to guide them,” he said. 

Elmi said marginalized youth deserve to see people in leadership positions that reflect themselves, as racialized leaders are almost non-existent on Canadian leadership boards, according to a study of Canadian board diversity by the Diversity Institute released in August 2020.

While people of colour represent 28.4 per cent of the population across the eight cities that were analyzed, they only occupy 10.4 per cent of board positions. For example, among 1,639 corporate board members, the study found that there were almost no Black people on corporate boards in Toronto. 

“By offering tutoring support throughout kids’ education processes, they might have a chance to go into these positions, should they want to go that way,” said Elmi.

“It might not be a result of changing society tomorrow, but it might have a long term effect, once you provide people those pathways to whatever career they want to choose.”

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