Imagining a Future: Success Stories in Challenging Circumstances

Darlene Ciuffetelli Parker, Heather Becker

A wonderful line in The Spyglass by RichardPaul Evans reads “You have seen what might be, now make it so.” The book tells of a once great kingdom now in ruins, where many nights villagers went to bed hungry. But the king and villagers  awaken  and  see  what  might  be  and together rebuild their kingdom. It is a success story of  a  community affected by  challenging circumstances.

In Ontario’s education system there are many schools and communities affected by challenging circumstances such as poverty. Rather than seeing  limitations,  some  educators  and  community members are looking for solutions for all learners.

Our project involves researching, developing, and writing case studies of  these schools and communities. It will highlight unique, successful strategies so that other educators and communities can “see what might be and make it so.”

The research team – ourselves and Dr. Joe Flessa from OISE – will visit 10 school sites twice. During these visits, we establish focus groups that include parents, teachers, administrators, and other key community members (outreach program members; YWCA, etc.).

Here are some of the successful strategies and approaches we are seeing in the first phase of our research:


Schools with distinctive, schoolwide plans that respond to learners’ needs

  • In one school, local marathoners run a “Running, Reading and Snacking” after-school program that operates in addition to the regular breakfast and snack programs. It is part of the schoolwide literacy plan, daily physical fitness, and nutrition program.
  • There are schools with drop-in centers for parents, open every day.
  • Some schools have parent libraries that provide books on parenting and other relevant topics free of charge.


Educators who create differentiated learning techniques

  • Educators who create partnerships with parents who read at home to children; provide access for parents and children to borrow books; and/or hold literacy nights that involve all community agencies.
  • Educators who teach in such a way that students can acquire the skills and life experiences they need and may not have. Their curriculum of life includes such things as going to the park to learn how to play and feel safe, and community events that let parents and teachers get to know and understand each other better.


Schools with sustainable partnerships with parents and the surrounding community

  • Thanks to the leadership of staff, schools have partnerships with churches, outreach centres, women’s groups, community agencies, and arts organizations. The partners are invited to all school events, their work is recognized, and they work with the school as one larger community.
  • In certain schools, community groups or parents assist student learning in such areas as carpentry, cooking, sewing, or other trade-related classes.


Educators and community members exemplify a moral tendency to take action “and make it so”

  • Schools demonstrate concretely that people are valued as equals, no matter what their socioeconomic circumstance, so that all feel heard, valued, and understood.
  • Schools ensure that parents feel safe in approaching principals and teachers about any issue.


An important part of our project will be to translate these strategies into viable and achievable examples that  others  can  emulate.  Learning  more  about  the impact  of  poverty  on  children’s  learning  and  how some  educators are addressing it can help build further success stories in all communities.