United Way mentoring program aims to lift students out of poverty

An education program aimed at striking out poverty in Leamington kicked off with the start of school earlier this week.

Free tutoring, mentorship and post-secondary grants offered to low-income students

Amber Buston-White is one of the students taking part in the On Track to Success program. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

An education program aimed at striking out poverty in Leamington kicked off with the start of school earlier this week.

The United Way / Centraide of Windsor-Essex County's "On Track to Success" program hopes to help vulnerable students graduate high school and attain post-secondary education through mentoring services, free tutoring and $1,000 for each successful year of high school. 

Amber Buston-White is part of the program. The 14-year-old is just starting her Grade 9 year at Leamington District Secondary School. Like most kids just starting high school, she says it's been a fun experience over the first few days.

"I like it so far, it's fun," she said. "I want to go to college. I want to be a journalist because I like writing and I like how they're activists doing what they do."

At the end of the last school year, her teachers thought she'd be a good fit for the United Way program. After interviews with Liam Giles-Hayes, the program's co-ordinator, Buston-White was accepted. 

Buston-White said she knows she's not getting a free ride. Along with maintaining a 90 per cent attendance rate, she needs to keep up her grades.

"It's exciting, it's a lot of fun. I have more responsibility with getting good grades, but I think it'll help me in the future," she said. "Getting good grades will get you into better schools and get you more opportunities." 

Twenty students have been selected for the program, with the aim of growing the program to 80 students over the next four years. 

Kyle Berard, the principal at Leamington District Secondary School, said in an interview with CBC News that poverty is often accompanied with a host of other issues. 

"Students are facing so many different challenges," he said. "Sometimes we have students facing socio-economic challenges where families have a tough time feeding and clothing their kids. Generally (these problems) don't exist on their own. There will also be struggles with family dynamics and mental health issues." 

While educators do their best to care for every student, it's inevitable that some will fall through the cracks, Berard said. Programs like "On Track to Success" can help fill those gaps, he added.

"We're very excited to think about having an extra set of supports for these students who might have otherwise fallen through the cracks." 

With a report from the CBC's Amy Dodge


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