Can a close-to-home version of the Peace Corps help at-risk kids get an education and realize their potential?
City Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) definitely thinks so.
Teachers aren't ready to jump on board with Mayes, however, and questioned Monday why they and Education Minister James Allum haven't been invited to hear all about it Thursday at a series of forums Mayes is hosting.
It's an American concept called City Year, Mayes explained Monday, and it brings together young people -- older than the students, younger than the teachers -- for a year of corporate-sponsored, low-paid, 11-hour days working in schools with at-risk kids.
The City Year students start at 7:30 a.m. and finish at 6:30 p.m., and along the way they tutor and mentor kids, get absent children to school, assist the teacher, oversee homework and run after-school programs.
Major corporate sponsors foot much of the bills, including outfitting the City Year staff with distinctive red outfits bearing the sponsor's logo.
Mayes said it's mainly strong academic young people taking a year away from their post-secondary studies, who are paid about $1,000 to $1,500 a month and receive a tuition voucher from sponsors to help when they enrol in or return to university.
Setting up City Year in Winnipeg "would take a lot of advance planning," said Mayes, who was told in Columbus, Ohio, he'd need at least 50 young people signed up to make a go of it the first year.
"We're not saying it would all have to be in schools here," Mayes said.
Mayes said he invited Children and Youth Opportunities Minister Kevin Chief, rather than Allum, because it may make more sense to base City Year in the community, rather than in schools.
Manitoba Teachers' Society president Paul Olson accepted Monday night Mayes has good intentions, but, "I'm not impressed with the process. Talk to the unions responsible for educational assistants and support staff in schools -- that would be the intelligent place to start. To the best of my knowledge, no one at MTS knows anything about this.
"Teachers should be asked what resources they need," Olson said. "We have someone floating an idea who hasn't thought to consult with the minister of education or the people responsible for education."
Zach Fleisher, Manitoba representative for the Canadian Federation of Students, is accepting his invitation Thursday and he wants to hear details.
From what he's heard from Mayes, "it benefits the inner city and the people who engage in it. It seems to me like a worthwhile endeavour, because it allows those who come from privilege to give back to the community," said Fleisher.
Mayes speculated it would probably be better in Winnipeg to base a program out of community centres or agencies such as food banks, rather than to station City Year young people in public schools, though they'd work with students as much as possible.
"I certainly see challenges in trying to import the City Year model into Canada, such as collective-bargaining agreements and the curriculum," said Mayes, acknowledging some of the duties performed by City Year students in the U.S. are carried out here by teachers, educational assistants, and other school staff. There are policies here limiting corporate involvement in public schools, not to mention 11-hour days possibly being an issue, he acknowledged.
But, he said, "I don't think the school system here is in the same disrepair," and it may not be necessary to have City Year workers in schools to the same degree they are in the U.S.