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Seeking the 'CSI bump'

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On the first day of August, 45 kids in Elmwood aren't sleeping in or slacking off -- they're at school, building vehicles.

The students in Grade 1 to Grade 6 are attending a summer enrichment program at Lord Selkirk School. This year, it joined 14 other schools in Winnipeg to give 1,000 kids in poor areas the "CSI bump."

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The Community School Investigators program provides five weeks of summer learning and activities so students don't fall behind when school resumes in the fall.

The CSI program started in 2005 at two schools in low-income areas. Retired educator Strini Reddy and a colleague came up with the idea for CSI after looking at data from the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy in 2004. It showed how far kids in poverty are falling behind higher-income peers over the summer. That "summer learning loss" has a negative long-term impact on their schooling and their futures. The province provides $1 million for summer programs including CSI, which is run by the Boys and Girls Club of Winnipeg with the help of school divisions and the work of university students and dozens of volunteers.

"There are a thousand kids whose educational trajectory will change considerably," said Wayne Helgason, who was the head of the Social Planning Council that ran CSI in its first five years.

"It was aboriginally driven and its focus came from aboriginal parents and children," Helgason said. "It's focused on aboriginals but inclusive." Many new Canadian kids are benefiting from the summer learning activities in their neighbourhoods, he said.

At one Winnipeg high school, older kids got a hand from another community collaboration this summer.

In July, the North End non-profit agency Community Education Development Association (CEDA) collaborated with the Winnipeg School Division to help aboriginal students stay in school and get the credits they need to move on.

For three weeks in July, 17 students attended summer school at Children of the Earth School. Class sizes were kept small and teachers were either First Nations or M©tis. CEDA support workers gave in-class assistance, after-school tutoring and helped students with transportation and encouragement to get them to school. And it picked up the tab for student registration costs and salaries of the teachers.

Only one student dropped out, 15 had perfect or near-perfect attendance and every student who finished received their credit or credits. The average grade was 77 per cent.

Around the corner from Children of the Earth, R.B. Russell High School is trying something new this fall to boost graduation rates.

"The project will take 30 students and wrap some support around them," said Damon Johnston, executive director of the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg. "The challenge is, the graduation rate there is 16 per cent."

Aboriginal education is a political hot potato with so many levels of government including First Nations involved, he said. "Who's going to pay for it?" Right now, everyone is paying for the lack of it, said Johnston.

"The cost factor is already there with a 45 per cent dropout rate," he said. "Doing nothing is not an answer."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 3, 2013 A6

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