February 25, 2016 Izidor Bjelopoljak

School Within A College (SWAC) at George Brown College Toronto

The programme is promoted as an opportunity for experiential learning about post-secondary education and work via spending a semester on campus. It offers secondary school students the opportunity to earn secondary school credits and a dual college credit.
The continued goal for students is to complete their Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) and ultimately a successful transition to college. The focus is on motivating secondary students who are facing challenges in graduating or have left-high school before graduating.
The SWAC programme is intended to provide a model for the delivery of secondary credit courses by secondary school teachers and college dual credit courses taught by college professors within a collaborative learning community on a college campus.

The programme is promoted as an opportunity for experiential learning about post-secondary education and work via spending a semester on campus. It offers secondary school students the opportunity to earn secondary school credits and a dual college credit.
The continued goal for students is to complete their Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) and ultimately a successful transition to college. The focus is on motivating secondary students who are facing challenges in graduating or have left-high school before graduating.
The SWAC programme is intended to provide a model for the delivery of secondary credit courses by secondary school teachers and college dual credit courses taught by college professors within a collaborative learning community on a college campus.

Objectives of the Intervention

The programme is promoted as an opportunity for experiential learning about post-secondary education and work via spending a semester on campus. It offers secondary school students the opportunity to earn secondary school credits and a dual college credit.

The continued goal for students is to complete their Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) and ultimately a successful transition to college. The focus is on motivating secondary students who are facing challenges in graduating or have left-high school before graduating.

The SWAC programme is intended to provide a model for the delivery of secondary credit courses by secondary school teachers and college dual credit courses taught by college professors within a collaborative learning community on a college campus.

Origins and rationale of this initiative

The socio-demographic context

The population of Toronto is 2.79 million. Toronto is one of the top ten economically competitive cities around the globe - 68.3% of the labour force has post-secondary education and 83% highschool graduate rate (5 year) At the same time, 51% of its citizens are foreign born, 49% are visible minority and 12.8% are youth.

Key challenges are poverty, issues faced by the workforce, access to post-secondary education and a number of challenges to communities:

  • Poverty: more than 1 million Torontonians live in low-income neighborhoods and 60% of low-income families are from racialized groups;
  • Workforce: 19.4% of the population are in precarious employment; 20.75% is the youth unemployment rate and there is an increased polarization of workforce and job education mismatch;
  • Education: access to post-secondary education not equally distributed across various socioeconomic groups; less than half (44%) of youth in care in Ontario graduate from high school (compared to 81% of all Ontario youth) and high school drop-outs are three times more likely to come from low-income families. Furthermore, access to post-secondary education is not equally distributed across various socio–economic groups, according to the Council of Educators (2008). In addition, according to Toronto Employment and Social Services, approximately 30,000 of Ontario Works recipients are between the ages of 18-29, don’t have high school diplomas and have non-existent or gaps in work history. The services available to these young people address their needs in isolation (i.e. Resume-writing workshops, on-line career exploration programs, job placements). It is clear that these services are not addressing the foundational issues facing Toronto’s young people living in poverty.
  • Community: CFO responded with its programmes to the 2010 Vital Signs Report Toronto Community Foundation, which emphasized that the increasing polarization of the workforce affects Toronto workers in entry-level positions– predominantly youth, newcomers and those without post-secondary education. The report further highlighted that there are fewer jobs that pay well and less opportunity for advancement. In 2009, less than 62% of Torontonians felt a strong or somewhat strong sense of belonging to their local community, down from 66% in 2008 and below the 65% national rate.

Policy context

SWAC is a part of the SCWI initiative, which is a province-wide programme responding to some of these challenges. It is described in some further detail as an enabling factor in the next sections of this document. This governmental initiative is an example of data-driven policy. Within the context described above, secondary school graduation rates and demographic data ultimately shaped the design of the intervention on a provincial scale.

The Ministry of Education in Ontario through its Student Success/Learning 18 Initiative created a Student Success Strategy that helps students in grades 7 to 12 tailor their education to their individual strengths, goals and interests. See the MOE website: https://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/teachers/studentsuccess/strategy.html

The rationale behind the action was that nearly a third of students were not completing their high school education in 2003-04. Here are some interesting facts found in the Canadian Council on Learning's report on the cost of dropping out of high school:

  • Labour and employment: a student who drops out can expect an income loss of more than $100,000 over their lifetime, compared to individuals with a high school diploma (and no postsecondary education).
  • Social assistance: the average public cost of providing social assistance is estimated at over $4,000 per year per student who drops out.
  • Crime: students who drop out are overly represented in the prison population.
  • Health: a student who drops out enjoys fewer years at a reasonable quality of life. This is because there are strong associations between education and health across a range of illnesses (e.g., cancer, diabetes). Combining morbidity and mortality costs, there is an estimated cost to the student who drops out of more than $8,000 per year.

An additional impetus is provided by the graduation goal set up by the government comprising of an 85 per cent graduation rate target. This means 25,000 more students per year will graduate when the target is achieved than did in 2003-04.

Institutional and theoretical context

As a result of the above, George Brown College partnered with the TDSB to address the needs of the country’s largest school board and collaborated on the implementation of a SWAC program at GBC. As the sections below will show, SWAC is closely linked to the theories and methodologies employed by the Community Partnerships Office (CPO) which is the nest of SWAC.

Four interconnected goals provide the foundation for the diverse collaborative initiatives delivered by the CPO and its partners both inside and outside the college to build social and economic development. These goals underpin all the CPO’s wide-ranging projects to supportcommunity health and system change and to improve access to education and employment. The four goals are:

  1. CREATE INNOVATIVE PARTNERSHIPS: expand the college’s community partnerships through creative and customised programming; build and maintain partnerships to help employers to access the workforce skills they need to compete.
  2. PROVIDE EQUITABLE ACCESS: engage employers and attract students through innovative programmes that create opportunities in post-secondary education and pathways into fulfilling careers.
  3. ADD STRATEGIC VALUE: empower individuals, employers and communities to realise their potential; conduct evidence-based research which contributes to the college’s role as a knowledge centre and community asset.
  4. ADVANCE SYSTEMIC CHANGE: contribute to public dialogue and policy reform on workforce development, education and community development.

A key principle and challenge has been balancing continuity and change in order to achieve impact at the community level. Furthermore, on a local level, CPO’s implementation and operationalization of SWAC has been based on a collaborative, student-centred approach whereby school board stakeholders (such as TDSB and TCDSB) defined student needs within their schools and worked with CPO to determine program structure, student numbers, and so on. CPO’s partnership framework is integrative, borrowing attributes from linear and non-linear (constellation) models – see CPO Partnership Literature Review

Target groups intended as beneficiaries of this initiative

Dual credit programs are aimed at students who fall into one of the following three categories:

  • Students who face significant challenges in completing the requirements for graduation. This group includes disengaged and underachieving students who have the potential to succeed but are at risk of not graduating, and students who left school before graduating (under 21 years of age). These students are the primary focus of dual credit programs;
  • Students in Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) programs;
  • Students in the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP).

The SWAC primary focus is on students facing challenges in graduating: students who are disengaged and underachieving, but who have the potential to succeed in college. The requirements for SWAC at George Brown College are:

  • Must be between the ages of 17-20
  • Priority will be given to students who will be in a graduating position at end of SWAC Program
  • Completed Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) or Ontario Secondary School Literacy Course (OSSLC)
  • Completed 40 hours of community service

Each cohort ranges in size from 25-30 students and students come from across the City of Toronto. Majority of students are from low socio-economic background, first generation in higher education and marginalized communities.

Political and socio-economic factors that you believe have been important enablers for your initiative

Political support: School/College/Work/Initiative (SCWI)

The SWAC programme has closed links with the School/College/Work/Initiative (SCWI), which is a collaboration of the Council of Ontario Directors of Education (CODE) and the Committee of College Presidents (COP), SCWI is jointly funded by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. The SCWI is a co-operative effort with a mandate to assist in creating a seamless transition for students from secondary school to college. In addition to a wide array of learning and awareness opportunities for students, teachers, parents and the broader community, projects have been developed to provide dual credit programs for secondary students through the partnership of secondary schools and colleges.

SCWI implements approximately 450 dual credit programs designed to serve 10,000 secondary students across Ontario annually. However, the SCWI forums and activities grew to over 85,000 participants providing support for student success resulting from the collaboration of 24 colleges and 70 eligible school boards from across Ontario. These were all innovative projects to improve retention and graduation rates and support successful transition to college and apprenticeship based on the premises that there are extraordinary benefits for students when colleges and secondary schools work together.

The college ethos

Within this framework, key enabler is the size, location and ethos of the George Brown College. Currently, it has:

  • 2,266 Full-Time students
  • 38,000 Con-Ed Students
  • 2,070 International Students
  • 3 Main Campuses

The college is located in the heart of downtown Toronto, and has partnerships around the world. It delivers programs in employment sectors facing shortages and works with employers engaged in program development aligned with skills. The college considers it signature characteristics the commitment to community and economic development within the city.

The college Community Partnership Office

In addition to SCWI, the Community Partnerships Office of George Brown College is also engaged in delivering other provincial level governmental educational initiatives which provide alignment for equity activities, examples of some of these programmes are:

  • Second Career: initiative to assist laid-off or unemployed workers return to school and
  • retrain in emerging careers;
  • First Generation: students who are first in their immediate family to pursue post-secondary education.

An enabler directly linked to the ethos of the college is that the programme is located at the Community Partnerships Office of George Brown College which was established 10 years ago. The vision for the office is: Achieving community and economic development through education for the sustained growth of individuals and communities. Delivering on the promise of engagement, opportunities, solutions and strategic models that inform system change to strengthen communities and individuals through education. Its mission is to leading large scale, collaborative initiatives with multiple partners to provide pathways to post-secondary futures. Its partners, from every sector – corporate, service, civil society, education, labour and government, work with us to implement innovative projects.

The office has a multi-disciplinary team that fluctuates from 10-30 people and strives to cultivate and steward large-scale collaboratives that achieve community and economic development. It initiates focused education projects and programs supporting non-traditional students and extends programs beyond the traditional boundaries into the community.

The CPO’s goals are: 

  • Create innovative partnerships: expand the college’s community partnerships through creative and customized programming and build and maintain partnerships to help employers to access the workforce skills they need to compete.
  • Provide equitable access: engage employers and attract students through innovative programs that create opportunities in post-secondary education and pathways into fulfilling careers.
  • Add value: empower individuals, employers and communities to realize their potential and conduct evidence-based research which contributes to the college’s role as a knowledge centre and a community asset.
  • Advance change: contribute to public dialogue and policy reform on workforce development, education and community development.

The CPO methodology and utilisation of theories

The office has developed a methodology that builds around three pillars to work at the micro level in order to impact at the macro level:

  1. Address systemic root causes
  2. Execute initiatives
  3. And establish those initiatives that has the highest impact

These initiatives work to mobilize partnerships for blending social and economic development with education. Key ingredients in this process are:

  • Innovation in Learning. In SWAC, innovation in learning is expressed in the way the programme  brings disengaged students into a college setting. These are students who would otherwise not see themselves as belonging or capable of post-secondary degree.  Students are registered as college students with access to college services, supports and resources. The model provides students with the opportunity to gain up to 8 credits in one semester (most high school students can only complete 4 in one semester);
  • Research and evaluation (described in further details in the relevant section below);
  • Advocacy and policy change. SWAC relates to the Learning to 18 MoE Initiative outlined above and demonstrates to the 2 ministries responsible for education in Ontario that marginalized populations can succeed in post-secondary given a supportive environment and addressing the needs of students in a holistic manner (in and out of the classroom)

Key to the success of CPO’s initiatives are that they cover a wide range of layers. In addition to the links to education and often to employment, there are also programmes that address the wider context such as regeneration activities (e.g. Regent Park Revitalization) and  major coalition builders – for example, promoting links between employers, training providers, funders and the community (the Paintbox Project, a collaboration with Paintbox Bistro).

CPO’s links to strategies and national level

The ingredients of the CPO are inspired by the 2011 document released by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce released ‘Protecting Our Most Valuable Resource: The Business Case for Lifelong Learning and Job-Based Training’. It was calling for expanded government support for a broad-based workforce training system. It makes several recommendations including, administration of funds and design of training initiatives should be delegated to organizations with the most direct, hands-on knowledge of regional economic conditions.

SWAC, alongside other projects, is a part of how the college participates in the national conversation on equitable access to postsecondary education as a member of the Canadian Access Network. This is an exciting new initiative to improve equitable access to higher education. The idea for the Network started with George Brown College’s participation at the World Congress on Access to Postsecondary Education, which brought Canadian institutions together to work on common issues and establish new national connections to effectively respond to shared challenges.

The Community Partnerships Office played a significant role at the 2013 year’s Congress, co-leading a ‘content stream’ with McGill University on the links between social and economic development and equitable access strategies in different cities and regions. Discussions about how the underlying strategy behind such initiatives could be translated onto a broader stage sparked the idea of a pan-Canadian network that could address the system-wide

causes of access barriers. By facilitating the transfer of ideas and sharing of best practices, the Canadian Access Network will generate an essential pan-Canadian dialogue about how system-wide capacity can be expanded to improve experiences and outcomes for students across the country. Although it is still at the development stage, the Network will ultimately be a unique platform for sharing content and collaborating on local and national projects, with design information, results and resources easily accessed by partner organizations and institutions. By synergizing approaches, the Canadian Access Network will help postsecondary institutions to address the root causes of inequitable access and advocate for solutions with one voice.

Overall Programme design and the methods and tools used to reach the goals

The SWAC program includes the following elements:

-  Students spend a semester in secondary school courses (including General Learning Strategies and credit recovery) as well as taking two college delivered “general education” credit courses, taught by George Brown College professors. Students also take co-operative education

-  Dual Credit Course Offerings:

  • Good Vibrations: The Evolution of Popular Music taught by Brad Reed;
  • Film Studies
  • Introduction to Psychology;
  • Speaking with Confidence;
  • Concepts for a Digital World;
  • Forensic Psyhology;

The programme mechanism works via delivering a range of benefits for students including:

  • earn up to 8 credits in one semester;
  • explore college life and post-secondary programs;
  • experience adult learning environment in a College setting;
  • receive instruction in self-advocacy, literacy skills, and learning strategies for preparation and transition into post-secondary education/pathway;
  • get involve in experiential activities to explore careers, develop skills, and discover Toronto;
  • get links to college career centres, libraries, student services, disability/accessibility services, academic advising, counselling, etc.
  • receive Metropasses to help ease the travelling from home to college.

Key to the programme success is that a teacher from the Toronto District School Board helps students make up missing credits and teaches literacy skills so that students can obtain up to eight secondary credits that move them closer to completing high school. Both internal and external studies show that underachieving students respond well to being treated as adults, and that being immersed in the college environment as ‘adult learners’ noticeably improves their attitude toward school. Experiencing the independence and responsibilities of the college environment also proved highly motivational.

Describe if the project ensured its sustainability

With continued funding from SCWI, the college has been able to deliver the program since 2010. The SWAC program is offered across the province of Ontario in different iterations.  GBC’s model is unique in the number of credits being offered in one semester, the success rates of the program and is considered a best practice site.  The team has presented at numerous conferences and symposiums.  We’ve also received tremendous buy in and support from across the college including the President.

Resources used in the initiative

The program is funded for approximately $93, 000 per cohort of 25-30 by SCWI (which in turn is jointly funded by MOE and MTCU). The funding covers the following:

  • professor salary
  • books/ materials
  • ancillary fees (student id cards; transcripts, etc.)
  • program coordination (college and school board)
  • classroom space
  • transportation
  • Orientation and Graduation costs

In addition to the above, the following are covered by other funding sources:

  •  Secondary School Teacher Salaries are covered by the school board
  •  School Boards provide the students with a breakfast program 3 days per week that comes from a different funding source
  •  College Program Management and oversight is covered by other projects within the CPO

A number of supports are required to make the program a success, in-kind contributions from the college include:

  • Counselling
  • Disability Services
  • Career Coaching
  • Academic Advising
  • Student Placements (Child & Youth Worker)
  • Peer Tutors

Below is the 2014-2015 schedule

TCDSB Summer SWAC- (Speaking With Confidence/ENG4C)

 

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

 

 

 

Grade 12 English(ENG4C) & Speaking With Confidence

Grade 12 English (ENG4C)

8:45-12:00pm

Rm-132

Bldg. E

Dual Credit

Speaking With Confidence

8:45 -11:45am

Rm-560E

Bldg. A

Grade 12 English (ENG4C)

8:45-12:00pm

Rm-132

Bldg. E

Dual Credit

Speaking With Confidence

8:45-11:45am

Rm-538E

Bldg. A

Grade 12 English

(ENG4C)

8:45-12:00pm

Rm-132

Bldg. E

 LUNCH

Grade 12 English (ENG4C)

12:40-3:25pm

Rm-132

Bldg. E

Dual Credit

Speaking With Confidence

12:40-3:25pm

Rm-560E

Bldg. A

Grade 12 English (ENG4C)

12:40-3:25pm

Rm-132

Bldg. E

Grade 12 English (ENG4C)

12:40-3:25pm

Rm-130

Bldg. E

Grade 12 English

(ENG4C)

12:40-3:25pm

Rm-132

Bldg. E

Did the intervention reach its objectives?

The Community Partnerships Office has taken a leadership role in research and evaluation developing a strong framework for evaluating all of its work. The team identifies and creates access models that address students’ complex needs as well as institutional challenges. Furthermore, they are using this knowledge base to establish new and improved approaches at the college, ministry and systemic levels.

The Community Partnerships Office has conducted research and advanced evaluation strategies in the areas of education, employment and partnership models. In each case, they have integrated community-based research techniques that respect and leverage the contributions of individuals of all ages, experiences, and educational backgrounds.

In 2011 they conducted an evaluation of the first year of the SWAC program. The purpose of this study was to understand student attitudes and perceptions about their involvement in this joint delivery program. There were two aims to this study:

  • to gain an initial understanding of student’s perceptions and attitudes about the factors that they perceive as influencing their success (credit achievement) at school;
  • to better understand the implications of the SWAC program and if students who previously did not find success in a traditional school are finding more success in the "School Within a College" program.

The three measures of success were: 1. Increased credit accumulation; 2. Increased awareness of college opportunities among teachers, parents, administrators, and students (provincial SWAC goal) and; 3. Supporting clearer pathways to college programs for all high school students, including those who are “disengaged and/or underachieving, but who have the potential to succeed.”

Key indicators were retention (number of student who started vs. finished) and number of successful students (as per the measures above).

The methodology included Student Feedback Questionnaires after each college course – students comment on course content, delivery methods, faculty, overall satisfaction and intent to pursue post-secondary. Since then, data collected (as indicated) below continues to support the intended outcomes of the program

The programme is proud with the following outputs:

  • There were 7 Cohorts since 2010
  • There were 167 SWAC Graduates, 70 students earned OSSD and 29 students attend post-secondary education;
  • Overall 94% of SWAC Students successfully completed the programme; 86% Secondary School Credits Earned/Granted; 87% College Credits Earned/Granted;
  • Most students now plan to pursue higher education.

The SWAC research and evaluation explores effective ways to increase long-term student outcomes, both academically and internally. This included a survey of student’s perceptions and attitudes about the factors that they perceive as influencing their success (credit achievement) at school.

The programme impact is formulated in terms of:

  • Better linkages between the college system and the secondary school system
  • Expanded and improved transitions by secondary students into post-secondary
  • Increase confidence in academic abilities in pursuit of post-secondary education
  • Provide greater access to post-secondary education for marginalized and first generation students.

Research showed that the SWAC program is an effective way to increase student outcomes, both academically and personally to help students regain their confidence and motivation. As described earlier, in the systemic approach employed by the CPO, SWAC is just one of the elements of a wider and complex approach that involves its interaction with other programmes of the college that a) aim increased access to education; b) then the CPO adds strategic value by using collaborative research move the dial on social and economic issues and c) advances systemic change by bottom up community development. Ultimately then, SWAC and similar access programmes connect high school students with a new way to go forward by using many partners working together is a ‘recipe’ for success. The 2010-2014 impact reports are available on the college website as well as within this folder.