Leadership Experience for Academic Direction (LEAD)

Logo: Leadership Experience for Academic DirectionLeadership Experience Academic Direction (LEAD) is an service-learning course offered to interested Junior-Intermediate and Intermediate-Senior Teacher Candidates through a partnership with the Faculty of Education, University of Windsor and the Windsor Essex Catholic and Greater Essex County District School Boards.

The objectives of LEAD are to gain an understanding of youth in the 21st century who are identified at risk. The LEAD program provides a unique field experience where the teacher candidate is mentored by both the Student Success teacher, as well as the Associates from their teachable areas and examines alternate forms of education. 

The Objectives of LEAD are:

  • Gain an understanding of youth of the 21st century who are identified as “in-risk”
  • Provide a unique field experience where the teacher candidate is mentored by both the Student Success teacher and the Associates from their teachable areas.
  • Examine alternative forms of education
  • Understand theories of resilience, TPSR and restorative practices
  • Link with community agencies and experts to provide a student success model for learning communities
  • Deal with current teen issues to learn to teach from a personal and social perspective

Highlights

  • Understanding poverty education
  • Mentoring in-risk youth Participating in various events with students and teachers
  • Working with student success teachers Understanding Pathways to success
  • Participating in Service Learning Projects with students and teachers

Special Points of Interest

  • Motivating often disengaged students
  • Understanding the impact of mentoring on these students
  • Developing differentiated instructional strategies to work with individuals
  • Developing differentiated instructional strategies to work with the individual needs of students
  • Power of Potential Youth Conference (POP)
  • Challenge Cup Leadership Event

This is open to all teacher candidates in the Junior-Intermediate and Intermediate Senior divisions from all teachable areas who are interested in understanding urban and poverty education and want to mentor in-risk students and build strategies.

Program History

LEAD was founded upon two main theoretical approaches: the Strengths Perspective and Duality of Structure.  These theories suggests that when working with marginalized communities, it is critical tor recognize a person's strengths and to focus on eliminating any barriers [real or imagined] to emphasize individual strengths.  Furthermore, the social world around us is created by the actions of each person operating within the boundaries of what he or she thinks is possible.  Coupled together, applying these theoretical foundations helps break the cycle of victimhood in which in-risk students can become trapped in and empower them to realize their actions matter.

LEADing with Purpose

Sometimes it’s not what you know, but who you know that leads to success. Or, at least, this is what research into student success at school, particularly within at-risk constituencies, suggests. Taken in its clichéd sense, the phrase “it’s who you know” seems a cynical statement, suggesting a school system rife with nepotism and favouritism but, in fact, professors at the University of Windsor are basing an innovative, interdisciplinary mentorship program on this very concept — viewed afresh, of course. 

“We’ve long known,” says Department of Kinesiology and Outdoor Recreation professor, Vicky Paraschak, that “even one significant adult can help keep a student in school, and therefore help him or her graduate.” The trick is, Paraschak continues, opening up the possibilities for that significant person — for it is not always obvious who might end up being able to make the significant connection.

With this concept of “opening up possibilities” for students firmly at core, Paraschak and Education professor Geri Salinitri are working with the Windsor- Essex Catholic District School Board — under the leadership of Superintendent of Student Success (and University of Windsor Education alumna) Linda Staudt — to develop a powerful mentoring program for at-risk youth. Leadership Experience for Academic Directions (LEAD) is now in its second year of interdisciplinary development and third year overall, and Salinitri and Paraschak are brimming with enthusiasm and hope.

For more than a decade, the Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board has been engaging cohorts of students in the Muskoka Woods Sports Camp, in an effort to build leadership potential through the camp’s Outdoor Education program. For most of these years, the program has been for grade eight students, with leadership/mentorship provided by high school students. But when the Ministry of Education’s High School Student Success programs came into force, Linda Staudt thought it might be time to move this experience into local high schools, targeted specifically to the Catholic Board’s at-risk “Youth of Promise.” Looking for older mentors to help develop and run such a program, organizer Greg Peck contacted Paraschak, who immediately embraced it. University of Windsor Human Kinetics (HK) students — students from Paraschak’s own Outdoor Recreation course — served as mentors, and Paraschak worked hard with a research team that initially included Education’s Geri Salinitri and Kara Smith, HK’s Janice Forsyth, Staudt and Vice Principal Kathy Furlong to develop the program’s philosophy and theoretical approaches (see below).

The facilitation team of dedicated Student Success teachers ran successful programming for two years. In part, through research that resulted in a Master’s thesis for HK student Marsha Murdock, they realized that they needed to take the program one step further — to formalize the program for all stakeholders and to work more concertedly on follow-up with the students. 

Education professor Geri Salinitri was ideally qualified to create this next step and thus, in 2007, the formal LEAD project was born. When Linda Staudt asked her to join the program team, Salinitri didn’t hesitate at all. A researcher passionate about mentoring, Salinitri recognized the LEAD program’s win-win-win potential to: boost student success; help get environmental and outdoor education and its values into the curriculum in a positive and powerful way; and help develop stronger teacher candidates and teachers. With Salinitri and the Faculty of Education on board, the team could move forward with much-needed preparation for, and subsequent follow up with, the students. In order to be an effective mentor, says Salinitri, “you have to develop a consistent, trusting relationship — and you can’t do it in two days. Beyond special programs, students have to see you as part of their lives.” In order to address this, each teacher candidate is assigned to one school throughout the year to facilitate sustained work with the school’s Student Success Teacher and students. This is proving very positive for the students. But what particularly excites Salinitri is that the program encourages “Intermediate/Senior teacher candidates to move away from teaching their discipline to teaching students. They realize that, to be an effective teacher, they have to reach the students.” The result is powerful: “Not only are we helping the Youth of Promise, but we’re also helping to develop and nurture stronger new teachers.”

Teacher candidates like Julie Last, who are involved in the LEAD program feel it is a challenging and enriching experience — one that offers opportunities for everyone involved to learn and grow. Through LEAD,” says Last, “I was given the opportunity to work with, and learn from, the best teachers in the city.  And the at-risk students I worked with taught me how challenging it is to find success and how rewarding it is when you have achieved it.”

And beyond all of that powerful mentoring — involving mentor “triads” comprising student leaders, teacher candidates and volunteer outdoor recreation students — a wealth of data on differentiated learning and models of student success is quietly being collected. 

Salinitri is thrilled that three graduate students (in HK and Education) are using this data for thesis research work. She looks forward to reporting on the overall research findings with hopes that other Boards and Faculties of Education might pick up and expand on Despite LEAD’s complexity, Paraschak and Salinitri look upon the program as “a gift.” It’s an opportunity for the University to give back to the community, for educators to reconsider the teacher-student relationship, and for at-risk students to widen their experience base. Beyond their memories, members of the “Youth of Promise” group also stand to gain something even better: continued success. As Paraschak says, “health goes up with education, quality of life improves, and on and on and on. If for no other reason, we run this program to give these students a better chance in life.”

When “who you know” — from a mentoring perspective, at least — can result not only in better grades, but also in better health and quality of life for students at-risk in our community, it certainly becomes a mantra worth repeating