We’re Making Progress

J.K. IRVING COMMENTARY TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL(Saturday August 23, 2014)

When I see the continued effort of our community to support the education and well-being of our young people, working together to break the cycle of poverty, I think back to where it all started. Bill Gale was the fellow who got us all on this road – we really owe it all to him.

We recognized back then that the key to success was education – focusing on children reading well. PALS was started to partner businesses and the community with our priority schools. The idea was to provide support to the students and the school, taking some of the burden off of the teachers so they could do what they do best – teach our children!

The goal of all the partners was and continues to be supporting literacy, mentoring to develop self- esteem, and providing opportunities that children would otherwise not experience. They are doing a wonderful job! My hat goes off to all the partners, and of course our educators.

Educators have a most important role to play. They are entrusted with the future of our community – our young people.

Educators are the front line heroes – investing their time and talents to make a brighter future for our young people. They are making a profound difference and I applaud them for their commitment.

They deserve every bit of help that the business community has been giving them. I firmly believe the community must take on more responsibility, continue to be involved and play an active role in helping our young people realize their ambitions.

There is nothing more powerful in the life of a child than a circle of people who support that child’s potential. The community is that circle and if we continue to work together with our schools and educators, we can help minimize poverty and make Saint John a more vibrant community.

I used to imagine what Saint John would look like in 10-15 years if we did make the right investments, and you know, 14 years have passed and what great results we have seen!

There are more than 100 business and community PALS partners working with our schools, helping with literacy camps and reading programs, mentoring, providing enrichment, coaching and so much more. PALS partners and volunteers are also supporting a program that has the potential to make a difference – the ELF program is another initiative that will help close the literacy gap for many of our students.

Our priority schools here in Saint John are working very hard and have shown tremendous growth between 2009 and 2014. Their early literacy scores have increased 24 per cent compared to the school district’s average of 6 per cent. This is what PALS is all about – partnering to help make a difference!

But for partnerships to work, we need help at the school level. Recently we were very pleased to hear that the Department of Education is funding full-time community school coordinators at our seven priority schools – they are so important to support our efforts and PALS partnerships with the schools.

So it is obvious that the government does recognize that inner city schools have special needs but funding is always a big issue. We all need to support their efforts to reallocate resources:

  • for smaller class sizes
  • for literacy programs
  • for activities like art, music and sports.

This is what will level the playing field for the children! And we must continue to invest in Saint John’s most important asset – our children.

We hope that our government leaders continue to support our initiatives and make literacy a priority, not just before the election, but once in power – from a government, business and community point of view it is a darn good investment, and a very rewarding one too!

We started on the right track 14 years ago and we need to stay on that track – we are not there yet, but because of the hard work and commitment of all involved, we are heading in the right direction!

And we are always looking for more folks to get involved – just contact your local school!

J.K. IRVING is a founding member of the Business Community Anti-Poverty Initiative. This commentary is the first in a series of essays exploring the need to close the achievement gap in education.

J.K. Irving, one of BCAPI’s founding members, stands with some of the students who have benefitted from PALS (Partners Assisting Local Schools) partnerships