How can we increase the odds of youth who live in social housing communities of graduating from high school?
To answer the question, Lilly Lush, executive director of the Rabbittown Community Centre and a Community Centre Alliance member, and Dr. Morgan Gardner, an associate professor in the Faculty of Education, spearheaded a community-university research partnership of students, parents, youth workers and other social housing community members in the Rabbittown community of St. John’s.
After months of focus groups, interviews, team meetings and a whole lot of relationship-building, the initiative’s results indicate important findings the women say need to be brought to other social housing communities and educators.
The report, Growing Community Power to Support Youth Success, co-written by Dr. Gardner and Dr. Kate Scarth, Dalhousie University, examines the myriad ways the social housing community helps students achieve success, and counters some views that low-income communities and their members lack the necessary knowledge and skills to help their youth.
The findings are portrayed in a seven-part narrative highlighting how community centres and their staff support young people through a number of programs, such as homework clubs and breakfast clubs. The storytelling approach helps to reveal how parents act as role models to their children through their own decision to complete high school, and how neighbours share resources with each other, such as food, school supplies or money, so that young people are prepared for school.
“Our research has a positive lens, it’s about strengths and more, specifically about strengths and how they energize, inspire and support social justice.”
“Our research has a positive lens, it’s about strengths and more, specifically about strengths and how they energize, inspire and support social justice,” said Dr. Gardner, a participation-action researcher (PAR) who has worked for the past 11 years with youth facing educational barriers and inequities, and with educators and community groups working with them.
“Here strengths carry transformative potential because they celebrate and expand community agency and engagement and challenge inequities and deficit-based perceptions facing social housing communities.”
In participation-action research, the premise is that individuals who experience educational challenges and inequities need to be central partners in both understanding and addressing issues of concern.
“Community members came to recognize ways they are educational leaders through their student-supporting views and actions,” said Dr. Gardner. “Our narrative of findings furthers the notion of community-based educational leadership because it serves to invite educational systems to become more democratic, relatable, relationship-centred and connected to the lived experiences of youth and their communities.”
One community resident spoke about how the team’s research will make visible the “shining example of what the community is and will be.” Another resident and parent said, “Instead of a conversation and walking away five minutes later, it’s here in a book. That’s a success right here.”
The Growing Community Power research team is currently working on getting their findings into the hands of educators and education leaders.
“One of our big goals as a team is to do a lot more partnering,” said one community centre staff and team member. “We want to build relationships with schools. We’ll meet with principals and vice-principals and invite schools in our community to get to know us, and what we offer.”
“Telling stories is a way of connecting with others, sharing memories and expressing belonging in the community.”
Dr. Scarth, who has an interest in storytelling and place and is a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Fellow in the Department of English at Dalhousie, says telling stories is a way of connecting with others, sharing memories and expressing belonging in the community.
“They are ways of saying, ‘I was there when that happened,’ ‘I remember,” ‘I participated,’ ‘I connected with you,'” she said.
“It is our hope to extend this work by partnering with other social housing communities in Newfoundland and Labrador to hear and document their own stories in supporting the success of their youth in school,” said Dr. Gardner. “We believe others will both surprised and inspired by the results of our study’s findings.”