At-risk youth glimpse life on Bay Street

two Toronto youth enjoy lunch during tour at Bay Street firm

Ghaith, 15, and Jennifer, 18, have lunch at Ernst and Young’s offices in downtown Toronto as part of the Pathways to Education program, a successful stay-in-school program responsible for reducing high school dropout rates to 10 per cent from 56 per cent in eight years. With a shared dedication to building stronger and healthier communities in the City of Toronto's priority neighbourhoods, United Way Toronto and Pathways Canada have partnered to build on the success of the Pathways To Education initiative in Regent Park.

Promise of possibility in careers, education greets students from troubled communities

Standing before a sweeping view of Toronto from the corporate dining room on the 31st floor, the Bay St. bigwig didn't sugar-coat his message to teens from two of Canada's poorest neighbourhoods.

"I know we're going through some turbulent times right now," said Lou Pagnutti, chair of Ernst & Young Canada, to 15 high school students from the mentoring program Pathways to Education, who yesterday got a peek at corporate Canada.

"We're also licensed trustees in bankruptcy and right now we're doing a lot of restructuring," Pagnutti said to students from Toronto's Regent Park and Kitchener's south-central core, who took photos of the skyline and dined on chicken supreme at candlelit tables.

"It's very cool. These are the kinds of experiences Pathways lines up for us that give us confidence..."

- Jennifer Bach, Pathways participant, who credits Pathways for giving her the confidence to apply to the University of Guelph.

"But it's not all bad," added Pagnutti, who noted that his parents did not go to university. "If you stay in school and get your education and all the Baby Boomers start to retire, you'll have all sorts of choice for your future and this could be one of your choices."

Between career talks from the firm's accountants and marketers, and a tour of this auditing powerhouse – with its own kitchens, travel agency and inter-office mail elevator – youth soaked up the trappings of financial success.

"It's very cool. These are the kinds of experiences Pathways lines up for us that give us confidence," said Grade 12 student Jennifer Bach of Regent Park, who, as a Pathways member, has received free tutoring and mentoring since Grade 9 and earned a $1,000 tuition scholarship for every high school grade passed.

Bach credits Pathways for giving her the confidence to apply to the University of Guelph.

"My dad often works at a supermarket until 10 (p.m.) and my mom is a hairstylist who also gets home just as late, so my brother and I go to the church basement to do homework with the Pathways tutors, instead of being at home around distractions."

Pathways has driven the dropout rate in Regent Park down to 10 per cent from 56 per cent eight years ago. Pathways' mission is to ensure that young people from at-risk and/or economically disadvantaged communities achieve their full potential by getting to school, staying in school, graduating and moving on to post-secondary programs. In 2007, United Way partnered with Pathways to deepen the program in three Toronto communities and to study, analyze and track the Pathways educational model to enable further replication in other at-risk neighbourhoods.

Adapted from an article in Toronto Star, March 19, 2008, by Education Reporter, Louise Brown.

Reproduced with permission - Torstar Syndication Services

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