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Collegiate students build connections

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Community is to literacy as syrup is to pancakes.


To mark the end of I Love to Read Month, a group of St. James Collegiate students served up a smorgasbord pancake breakfast and a morning of literature to students at Brooklands Elementary School on Wed., Feb. 28.


"As we grew up, we wanted to come back and help so that one day when these students come to St. James, they’ll know what they can do," said Patricia Bulos, a former Brooklands student who helped organize the event.


Bulos, now in Grade 11 at St. James, was one of 22 students from the collegiate who served up pancakes, fruit and juice to 150 students before breaking into reading groups and gifting books with personalized messages to their younger counterparts.


The event is part of the St. James Collegiate Brooklands Literacy Project, now in its 10th year, which sees former Brooklands students return to their alma mater every second Friday morning to act as literacy mentors to the community’s youth.


While 90 to 95% of Brooklands students move on to attend George Waters and St. James schools, high school graduation among youth in the community is low, said Brooklands principal Rex Ferguson-Baird.


As such, the school has made literacy its main priority to combat those stats, which often lead to poverty.


The literacy program, along with a Grandparents Reading Circle, is an opportunity to bring in role models for students to see the success of others, Ferguson-Baird said.


"We want to get our kids to recognize high school kids and see they can be successful in school," he said.


Over the last three years, the school has also netted more than $10,000 through donations and sponsorships to bring in over 1,000 new books into the school’s library.
The school assesses student reading skills three times a year to determine what individual supports are needed to have kids reading at a Grade 5 level when they leave the school, Ferguson-Baird said.


"If we can get kids to know they’re readers, that they’re writers, that’s going to have a long-term impact on their educational success," he said.


As much as the literacy program is about building the skills of Brooklands students, it’s also paying dividends to St. James students, teacher Adam Lister said.


The program is funded through United Way Youth Connections, and students are responsible for writing grants, arranging sponsors and food donations, ordering books and contacting media as part of the process.


"These are our best and brightest students," Lister said.


Lister has seen both ends of the program as a former teacher at Brooklands. Seeing the program continue to evolve and grow has proved an interesting experience, he said.


"The most fulfilling part for me is to see the kids who I once taught in elementary coming back to help out," he said.


"It speaks volumes about what we’re doing here."


For more, visit sjcnewsfeed.blogspot.ca and brooklands.sjsd.net.

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