The Family Service Center in Scarborough, Toronto features Canada’s first Education Bank supporting low-income families with learning resources, materials and a technology hub.
Canada’s first ‘education bank’ opens in Scarborough, Toronto
The ‘Education Bank’—located within the Family Service Centre, Scarborough, Toronto—is a place where students from low-income families can stop by and pick up everything they need, from 3D-printed school projects to self-care amenities like books about mindfulness and bath bombs.
“every child deserves the best opportunity to be their best self”
Six weeks ago, Theresa Pastore, 63, began renting an empty office in Scarborough, Toronto. Today, the 3,600-square-foot space is home to what’s billed as Canada’s first “Education Bank.”
The Education Bank operates similarly to a food bank in that families who qualify for government assistance or low-income supports are welcome to stop by and grab necessities. However, the centre is also open to families who are struggling financially due to COVID-19. For example, parents who became unemployed during the pandemic or have one minimum-wage worker in the family are eligible.
Shelves are stocked with all kinds of school supplies. Some of the brand-new items available are backpacks, lunch bags, pencil cases, binders, notebooks, construction paper and stickers. If a student needs something that’s not available, staff will try to find a way to accommodate their specific need.
“Despite their income level, what they look like, what neighbourhood they come from and whatever their background is, every child deserves the best opportunity to be their best self,” Pastore told the Toronto Star’s Maria Sarrouh.
Pastore dreamed of creating a place where kids could have access to the resources they need
When the pandemic began, Pastore and her team quickly produced and distributed 2,000 “Learn at Home Kits” containing books relevant to their grade level, and learning games. But she recognised the kits didn’t give students a choice in the books or activities they were provided with.
Pastore dreamed of creating a place where kids could have access to the resources they need.
Her dream became a reality on Monday 22 February when the Education Bank, in the Sheppard and Morningside area, officially opened to the public. But the Education Bank is just part of what the centre offers.
In the “learner’s corner,” parents and their pre-kindergartenrs can read books together and create “answer cubes”— on each side of the cube is a question related to the book. Kids can hop around on the piano play mat or assemble plastic blocks on the colourful foam floor tiles.
Older children have access to build-a-robot kits and coding games stored in the robotics and STEM area. Comfortable chairs have been assembled around a coffee table for parents who want to relax or chat while their kids play.
Children will be asked to work for the items and services they need from the centre, Pastore said. Students in secondary school will be encouraged to volunteer their time – and earn community hours — as a trade-off for access to services and materials. Younger children may be asked to make art for the walls, staple papers or write a story.
“Right now we are not implementing this piece due to COVID-19, but it will definitely be a rule once COVID-19 restrictions begin to lift,” Pastore told the Toronto Star.
The centre is also starting a “lunch bag program.” Every child that walks into the bank will leave with a bag full of healthy foods and goodies. They can write their name on the bag and bring it back to refill on their next visit.
“Everything they put in their bag becomes theirs,” Pastore said. “We want to create a spirit of ownership.”
“Every child is born with the potential to be great.”
Pastore and her team have seemingly thought of everything. For children invited to a birthday party, post-COVID, whose family can’t buy a present, all they have to do is show staff the invitation and they can take home a game, a birthday card and a bag. Children are encouraged to pick up a book about mindfulness or meditation, and shelves are lined with feminine hygiene products, shampoo, deodorant, bath bombs and body lotion so kids can “feel beautiful and taken care of.”
Parents of budding artists will find the centre’s arts and crafts section is fully stocked.
Pastore told the Toronto Star that creativity can help young people’s mental health. “Our kids are suffering terribly and we need to do something to inspire them.”
The centre is taking appointments by phone from families and students all over the city who want to visit. At the door, visitors will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and handed gloves, hand sanitiser and two masks per person as the centre is implementing a double-masking protocol.
Every person that walks into the centre will leave with a full-size hand sanitiser bottle and two medical grade masks for each member of their family. Children under 13 must be accompanied by a parent.
“We want this to be a place where families can leave their worries at the door,” Pastore said. “Every child is born with the potential to be great.”
For more details on the Education Bank, read Maria Sarrouh’s detailed report for the Toronto Star. Click here or more details of the Family Service Center.
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