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Every young person deserves a chance to succeed at school. But many face difficult circumstances getting in the way of reaching their potential.

For many at-risk youth, completing high school can feel like an insurmountable challenge. Canada has a relatively high rate of high school completion; however, thousands of young Canadians drop out of high school every year due to multiple barriers beyond the realm of school, including community, family and individual risk factors.

Graduating high school is no small accomplishment. It’s a critical milestone in a young person’s life, and contributes to their ability to become independent, confident and self-sufficient.

The impact of leaving school early is dramatic and long-term

By failing to graduate high school, prospects of finding work or meaningful employment are often out of reach. While two-thirds of Canadian men aged 25-34 without a high school diploma are employed, that number drops to just over 40 per cent for young women without a diploma.1

Youth from lower socioeconomic backgrounds in particular are failing to learn the skills to enable them to work successfully in workplace of the 21st century. This skill gap, along with the proliferation of technologies and innovations that are transforming the jobs, makes it more important than ever to ensure all young people have access to skill-building tools, technology and mentors to help them prepare for the future of work.

How Raise the Grade Provides Student Support

Recognizing that young people don’t leave school suddenly — and that risk factors are multiple and extend well beyond the barriers of school – the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada (BCGG) launched a national after-school program called Raise the Grade (RTG). In 43 communities across Canada, RTG is currently helping 900 youth overcome stress and adversity. With the support of mentors and tutors as well as access to technology and outside-the-classroom opportunities, RTG promotes academic engagement and increases a youth’s potential for not just completing high school, but for joining extra-curricular activities, participating in their communities, and continuing their education at college or university.

Raise the Grade has contributed to many success stories and has helped lift hundreds of students above critical barriers. Here’s how RTG helped two girls thrive both in school and in life by providing critical educational support.

Meet Maria

In Grade 7, Maria didn’t care much about her education. She didn’t take school seriously, and thought of it as unimportant. She put little effort into her work, and would often pretend to be sick so she could stay home. Not surprisingly, her marks reflected her lack of motivation.

Her parents didn’t have the resources to afford a tutor or send her to after-school centres to get homework help. When a representative from RTG came to her school to present the benefits of the program, it was like a light bulb clicked in her mind. “I thought, finally, there is a resource being offered to me. And it’s my responsibility to take advantage of it,” Maria says.

“Once I started coming to Raise the Grade, I got homework support. I would bring in my work, and staff and tutors would help me out. They would explain concepts in a way that was very easy to understand, so I could successfully do my homework. Plus, they offered various skills and tips in terms of study habits. And because the overall atmosphere was very encouraging and welcoming, I was really motivated to do something. It opened my eyes to the significance of getting an education.”

The result? Maria worked hard in school and attended every RTG session to make sure she fully benefited from the program. She applied the skills she learned there to her everyday life at school, and a year after joining RTG, Maria was named valedictorian of her Grade 8 class.

But she didn’t stop there. A year later, Maria continued to apply herself at both school and RTG, making the honour roll in her first year of high school with a 90 per cent average.

Meet Kashifa

Kashifa found out about RTG in Grade 9, when the Boys and Girls Club came to her school and advocated for the program. A classmate of Maria’s, Kashifa had heard about RTG, but knew she needed to experience it for herself.

Like Maria, Kashifa didn’t care about school and would find any excuse not to do her homework. Since joining the program, Kashifa has begun to understand her potential. “I was very insecure as a teenager. I never had the confidence. I never thought I was smart. Raise the Grade acknowledged my capabilities and showed me all that I can do,” she says.

The staff and tutors at RTG saw Kashifa’s leadership abilities, and recommended that she apply for the BE BOUNDLESS international exchange to Ghana with Boys’ and Girls’ Club of East Scarborough. She became the youngest student selected.

“I didn’t want to apply, but the staff believed in me and pushed me outside my comfort zone. They motivated me and encouraged me — I was so surprised and shocked when I was chosen.”

Beyond Marks

Raise the Grade is not just about academics and getting good marks. By supporting all aspects of a teenager’s life — academically and personally — RTG looks to help youth overcome a number of obstacles. Youth participating in RTG are supported and encouraged to achieve:

  • Insights about their personal interests and how to pursue them.
  • A sense of discovery and excitement about the possibilities of knowledge.
  • Career aspirations that match their personal interests, goals and abilities.
  • Credits and grades strong enough for the post-secondary program of their choice.

The Road Ahead

Maria has her sights set on being high school valedictorian. “It’s a really big dream – we come from a very big school with a lot of students. But I believe if I put my mind to it — and with Raise the Grade by my side as my secret weapon — I know I can do it.”

When it comes to life after high school, both Maria and Kashifa are aiming to pursue post secondary education at Harvard or Oxford, with the goal of pursuing medical careers in the future. The goals are grand, but they are well-planned.

“Raise the Grade has shown me how to define clear goals for myself. But they have also taught me how to be flexible with my approach to my future. If something doesn’t work out, you figure out what else to do. Life isn’t over. Things don’t always go the way you plan – I have learned how to find solutions when that happens,” Maria says.

Life comes with its share of obstacles — and some youth have additional challenges heaped on them from an early age. But there is support available: RBC Future Launch, through a $500 million commitment over the next 10 years, is focused on helping youth get work experience, grow their network and gain new skills. With the support of Future Launch, this June, over 150 young people graduated from the Raise the Grade program and are looking to pursue their next opportunity. With this level of social commitment, young Canadians don’t have to face adversity alone.

1. Study: Young men and women without a high school diploma, 1990 to 2016; Statistics Canada, May 4, 2017

Find out more about how RBC supports Youth.