Horizons to benefit from director’s interest in current research

The Horizons inter-school tutoring and mentoring program has reshaped itself to adjust to the realities of the pandemic, and other potential enhancements are being explored.
Horizons encompasses an academic-year tutoring program that matches student tutors from UCC’s Upper School with Toronto District School Board elementary school students, offering them a helping hand with their academic work, mentoring, and time for interpersonal connection with an older buddy. During the month of July, Horizons’ focus shifts to a Summer Program for Grade 7 to 9 students who are eager for enrichment activities and offers them a variety of learning opportunities. 

The popular program thrived remotely for the past two summers. In July, students met for four hours a day online, exploring topics such as design and coding, brain science and health, literature, yoga, and dancing. During the school year, the program continues once a week, offering students sessions on these and other subjects, including post-secondary school planning.

Meanwhile, the school-year tutoring program has focused on coding and studying novels as a group during the pandemic, since these can be done remotely. Program director Jyoti Sehgal says an unexpected benefit of running this program online is that youngsters from more than one school can work together in breakout sessions and get to know each other.

"Horizons has been going strong for more than 20 years," says Sehgal. "The anecdotal evidence is positive and research on tutoring shows that it is beneficial for both younger and older students, but we want to view the program through a social justice lens to ensure that it is the most equitable version of the program possible; that it doesn’t reinforce negative misconceptions of others."

Sehgal’s interest in reviewing the program and its processes is a natural outgrowth of her graduate studies at Western University where she recently earned her EdD degree. Her thesis focused on transformative change in tutoring programs to address social justice.

This term, Sehgal is working with a consultant to consider improvements to the program. The consultant will conduct what Sehgal calls "an explorative, appreciative inquiry," holding consultations with stakeholders to understand student and partner experiences and determine how a well-established, strongly supported program can be improved from an abundance rather than a deficit perspective. She is particularly concerned about whether some of the processes and programs reinforce social stratification.

"This is important because we want to focus on the commonalities between the tutors from UCC and the students from the Toronto District School Board with whom they work," she notes. "Research on tutoring has shown that it increases academic achievement, social-emotional wellbeing and school engagement, while decreasing stress and risky behaviours."

Adds Sehgal, "Some studies that look at cross-community partnerships have found they work better if there is some demographic alignment between the tutor and tutee: similar age, same gender or same cultural background, for example. However, other research shows that when there are differences between the two, students learn empathy. We are aiming to provide opportunities for students to consider each others’ lived experiences, find commonality, and appreciate diversity through shared learning experiences."

Sehgal hopes to use any significant strategies or outcomes of the inquiry to inform the Horizons summer program this year. 

"Our focus during the pandemic has been to maintain relationships with our partner schools and teachers," Sehgal says. “Now, we want to enhance the program in line with social justice and our school value of pluralism."
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