Hamilton student sees himself represented in school thanks to Black graduation coaches

Hamilton

Ontario's program that pairs Black students with a graduation coach is growing, and the coaches in Hamilton say they hope to eventually see two coaches in every school.

Grade 11 student Abdul-Baasit Sewaya Nsubuga says the Black graduation coach program at Sir Allan MacNab Secondary School in Hamilton should've came sooner.(Bobby Hristova/CBC)

She doesn't speed through the city with flashing lights, but if you ask Abdul-Baasit Sewaya Nsubuga to describe his graduation coach, he says Monique Pitt is like a "first responder."

"Every problem I've shown her, she's helped me overcome it," he said.

Every Monday and Wednesday at Sir Allan MacNab Secondary School in Hamilton, her door is open for Black students to get her help on just about any issue, or to just say hello — no appointments needed.

Sewaya Nsubuga, who is in Grade 11, said he joined the program at the end of the first semester. Since then, he said Pitt has helped him find college and university scholarships for Black students, set goals and balance his academics with extracurricular activities.

"Monique is a person you want to be around," he said.

Michael Abraham, Chad McPherson and Monique Pitt are Hamilton public school board's three graduation coaches for Black students. They say the hope the program will grow to see two coaches at every school in the board.(Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Pitt is Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board's third graduation coach for Black students.

She helps students at Sir Allan MacNab and Sherwood Secondary School while Chad McPherson and Michael Abraham tend to students at Bernie Custis Secondary School and Westdale Secondary School, respectively.

McPherson and Abraham started in fall 2019 when the province piloted the $2.94-million project.

Ontario expanding Black graduation coach program

The Ontario government is expanding the program, injecting $566,000 this year and $1.17 million next year.

"We are committed to breaking down barriers so that every student — irrespective of heritage, faith or colour of skin — has the opportunity to achieve their full potential," said Education Minister Stephen Lecce in the press release with the update on the program.

While they're called graduation coaches, Abraham, McPherson and Pitt say they aren't solely focused on helping students get their diplomas.

They each have a cohort of students they help on a near-daily basis.

"We connect with their families, their teachers, their guidance counsellors, administration and also have daily check-ins with those students … and those students will have accessible access to our rooms more so than others," McPherson explained.

Abraham said coaches also give their students bus tickets and gift cards, among other things.

He said students end up in their cohorts for a number of reasons, such as attendance issues, home dynamics, being new to a school or even for being a teen in need of a mentor.

Monique Pitt said Abdul-Baasit Sewaya Nsubuga visits her drop-in sessions every day.(Bobby Hristova/CBC)

For some students, graduation may not always be the goal, Abraham said. Some may just be trying to earn a credit while others are looking to get jobs.

"Sometimes it's just getting that kid into the school for that day," he said.

"It's genuinely taking a whatever-it-takes approach … and trying to be as holistic as possible."

Demand for Black graduation program is growing

Despite Abraham and McPherson having to face the challenge of building bonds with students amid remote learning, the program is growing.

Abraham and McPherson say they had about 17 students in their cohorts when the pilot started. Now Abraham has about 21 students and McPherson has 23 students.

Pitt, meanwhile, has 40 students between two schools. She started this school year.

But the true number of students the coaches help is hard to calculate, as there are lots of students who visit them in their rooms.

"It's almost every day I'm meeting a new student that needs the support … but it's cool to see students referring each other to the program," Pitt said.

The coaches say they also run clubs for students of colour and have even helped some students teach during Black History Month.

Abraham, McPherson and Pitt say the dream would be to have two graduation coaches at each school.

Sewaya Nsubuga agrees.

"I get comfortability in knowing there's a staff member at the school that I know shares my culture and understands it," he said.


You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bobby Hristova is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: bobby.hristova@cbc.ca

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