Cody Prescott was shy and reserved, but now the Grade 12 student performs Shakespeare.
“When I was in Grade 9, I was very awkward,” he says. “I used to wear my hoodie all the time… and never really talk to anyone.”
At his parents’ urging, the Children of the Earth High School student got involved with the Community Education Development Association’s (CEDA) Pathways to Education program. It was here that he was first introduced to Shakespeare.
CEDA Pathways helps youth from low-income communities graduate from high school by providing mentorship, tutoring and homework help, financial assistance, counselling, summer school and healthy food. This year, more than 300 students from Grades 7 to 12 are involved with the program.
“During the course of mentoring they played a lot of games which I had a lot of fun with and I was slowly opening up to that,” Mr. Prescott says. “But the thing that really did change me was called Shakespeare in the City.”
Shakespeare in the City is a program run by theatre company Shakespeare in the Ruins. It brings theatre to CEDA Pathways participants.
“I was embarrassed and unsure but I just tried it anyway. And then [the drama instructor] said something like, ‘You shouldn’t mind about being embarrassed because everyone else is embarrassing themselves too.’ Then I decided to not really care about…what other people thought of me at that moment.”
From that point on, Mr. Prescott devoted himself to Shakespeare. Most recently, he performed the role of Capulet in Romeo and Juliet.
“I wasn’t very good but I did my best and people said I did really well,” Mr. Prescott says.
Mr. Prescott is a peer mentor with CEDA Pathways and also sits on the student advisory council, a group of youth who help shape programming, receive specialized training such as Food Handler and CPR certification, and are paid for their work.
“I’m getting training and I get a paycheque. I get to teach other people so I get to help. Working with other people, I feel like that’s improving [myself], and [I’m learning to speak] with other people confidently,” Mr. Prescott says.
Cody Prescott is just one of many CEDA Pathways success stories.
According to Program Director Darlene Klyne, it is important to have peer mentors like Mr. Prescott.
“The younger kids need to see Aboriginal and newcomer kids succeeding in a role; I think that’s critically important. And [the mentors] can relate really well to the younger kids – just a year ago they were the younger students,” Ms. Klyne says.
One of the key parts of the CEDA Pathways program is the financial incentives. Each month students receive a stipend to purchase a bus pass or school supplies. And starting in Grade 9 students receive a $1,000 scholarship for each year they complete the program, up to a total of $4,000.
The healthy meal component is vitally important, Ms. Klyne says.
“You don’t do anything without food, especially when you’re working with young people. They’re coming into your building at 3:30 p.m., they may not have eaten all day and they’re going to be hungry. The first thing you’ve got to do is feed them so they’re prepared to do the work.”
The summer school program is helping kids catch up on their studies and is proving very successful; last year 100 per cent of the students enrolled finished the program. According to Ms. Klyne, CEDA Pathway’s summer school model is successful because it is offered locally, is well-supported, and is free.
“I think of people are under the assumption inner city kids may not want to go to summer school, that it’s totally off their radar, and that’s not true,” Ms. Klyne says. “They want to get caught up, they want to feel like they can succeed. Often if they don’t achieve credits through the year they’re feeling really discouraged. If they can go to summer school and get an extra credit it really motivates them to move forward.”
The Winnipeg Foundation provided CEDA Pathways with a grant of $100,000 over two years to support the student advisory council, nutrition program and summer school. The funding is drawn from the Moffat Family Fund.
Listen to Cody Prescott tell his story and learn more about CEDA Pathways on River City 360.