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Good news that fell through the cracks

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The other day I went to a news conference in the city’s North End about the RBC Foundation’s role in keeping at-risk kids in school.

The reason I went was not because of the event itself, but because it was a chance for me to button-hole Premier Greg Selinger on cost overruns with the new football stadium.

There were a couple of other reporters there, but to the best of my knowledge the RBC newser didn’t get a lot of coverage.

It should have, and in a very small way, this is my way of making amends.

There are 94 reasons why I think the story deserves wider play, and each of those reasons has a first and a last name. Most are Grade 9 students in the RBC-supported Pathways to Education program, which is run out of a former bakery at 419 Selkirk Ave. Each is a high school kid for that for one reason or another has been indentified at needing some extra help to stay in school and graduate, and perhaps even go on to college or university.

The RBC Foundation has committed $1 million towards the Winnipeg program, which is run through the Community Education Development Association.

Now, it’s not that often that a major Canadian company sinks $1 million into the "hood".

The province of Manitoba is contributing $425,000.

Pathways operates more like a drop-in centre than a school, but a school it is.

Generally, kids come early in the evening first for a hot meal and then settle in for instruction or tutoring. For some, it’s the only real meal they get in a day.

Why it’s so important is that while we often harp about how bad crime is in some parts of the city, we often don’t move beyond talking about tougher laws and bigger jails and more cops.

Pathways looks the problem differently. Its aim is to give kids an alternative to gangs, drugs and jail by simply staying in school.

"All those Grade 9 kids, that’s when they’re decisions about where they want to go," Selinger said. "If we can help them see above the horizon, they’ll do very well."

Pathways to Education started in 2001 in Toronto's Regent Park neighbourhood. Since it started the high school dropout rate has gone from 56 per cent to less than 12 per cent.

More information about Pathways is found on its website.

Winnipeg’s North End is Pathway’s 11th site in Canada.

"The North End of Winnipeg is an area characterized by gangs, drugs, poverty, violence, high unemployment and low graduations rates," Darlene Klyne said. "It is all of this, but it is so much more. What we don’t hear about is the hopes and dreams of families who call the North End home."

Klyne said the program gives them children of those families a leg-up to succeed.

What it needs right now are volunteer tutors and mentors to work with individual kids to help steer them first towards a high school diploma and then a possible career.

Stephen Terichow Parrott, who coordinates tutors and mentors for Pathways, says what’s also needed is additional space.

In a short time, Pathways has outgrown the former bakery only because so many kids are now involved.

"What we want to have is a place in the North End where the kids can have ownership," he said. "We want to have a centralized learning environment they can call home."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

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About Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen

Larry Kusch has been a journalist for 30 years, the last 20 with the Winnipeg Free Press. His is one of the newspaper's two legislative bureau reporters.

Raised on a Saskatchewan farm, he received an honours journalism degree from Carleton University in 1975.

At the Free Press, Larry has also worked as a general assignment reporter, business reporter, copy editor and assistant city editor.

Bruce Owen joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1990 after four years working in other media.

He's worked in a number of positions at the Freep, including pet columnist, assistant city editor and police reporter. Right now he takes up space at the Manitoba legislature.

Bruce is one of five reporters who won a National Newspaper Award for the paper’s coverage of the 1997 Flood of the Century. He's also the recipient of the 1996 Volunteer Centre of Winnipeg Media Golden Hand Award and the 1995 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Media Commendation Award.

In a past life Bruce worked at YMCA-YWCA Camp Stephens. He has a blog where he and others write about camp and the people who worked and played there.

You can also find Bruce on Twitter where he posts and retweets all sorts of stuff.

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