U of T gives at-risk students a chance to experience Caribbean culture

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A report by Justin Skinner for Inside Toronto.

For many at-risk students, the end of high school means the end of their educational journey.

The University of Toronto is looking to help many of those students earn their way into a post-secondary education, opening new career paths and avenues to success through its transitional year program.

Recently, the program brought students to Grenada on an exchange, giving them a unique chance to integrate into Grenadian culture and experience life outside of Toronto.

The program caters to students who would not usually have access to university, including single parents who may struggle to find the time or money to enter school, those who didn’t finish high school and those who have been to prison for minor offences.

L.A. Wade, the registrar of the transitional year program and a native Grenadian herself, said the students took a Caribbean literature course while there, learning at Grenada’s own St. George’s University. The opportunity is one that would not typically be open to most of those who took part in the program.

“One thing that’s unique about U of T’s transitional year program is students are usually not eligible for studying abroad until they’re enrolled in arts and sciences,” Wade said. “This gives them a chance to go abroad and start on a post-secondary education without being enrolled.”

Wade added that students got more than a classroom education, integrating into the culture, learning from the locals and discovering far more than most course curricula would offer.

“Grenada is the isle of spice, so they learned about the nutmeg and cocoa industries, learned about the hospitality and hotel industry from professionals while they were down there, and got to learn about some of the more difficult issues in Grenada like gender issues and sex tourism,” she said.

Anyika Mark, who participated in the trip to Grenada, said the experience was unlike anything she has become accustomed to in Toronto.

“We got to experience what life was like on the Grenadian campus and on the island,” she said. “It was completely different than being in Toronto and I pushed my limits more, interacting with the locals and learning what the culture is like down there.

“I’m half-Grenadian, so it was also good to reconnect with my culture.”

She added that many of those who took part in the program would not have been able to experience either university life or Grenadian life without it.

“A lot of the people who went just don’t have the resources to access education like that,” she said.

Colin Dowe of St. George’s University said his institution jumped at the chance to partner with U of T, given that St. George’s emphasizes access to university for all. He said St. George’s students sometimes joined in the in-class lessons taught to U of T students, adding that the experience was positive for all.

“The students who came here were immersed not only in Caribbean literature but also Grenadian culture,” he said. “Getting a strong tertiary education will help them in life, but the lessons outside the classroom were also valuable.”

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