As one of the three finalists in the North Forge Manitoba Open Innovation Challenge to promote literacy and numeracy skills for Manitoba pre-school children, Career Trek is used to helping youth prepare themselves for success. Those children, however, don’t usually count their age on one hand.
“Career Trek is dedicated to helping youth navigate their career journey by helping them discover who they are and what career they want to pursue,” said Anatoliy Furda, Career Trek’s Acting Director of Programming for the Winnipeg Region. “When we heard about the Manitoba Open Innovation Challenge we thought our team would be able to offer some valuable insight on how to best prepare Manitoba children for what is really the very first chapter in their career development.”
The Manitoba Open Innovation Challenge was launched by North Forge in late 2017 in response to Manitoba’s poor ranking in a recent study measuring school preparedness as it pertains to literacy and numeracy skills in pre-school children. The study was conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation & Development and ranked Manitoba 8th and 9th for numeracy and literacy respectively, and the challenge tasked community members and organizations to offer innovative ways to tackle the issue.
Career Trek’s submission was selected as one of three finalists, with a submission that focused on combining at-home learning and community-based reinforcement.
“We knew that a truly innovative idea would have to come from the families affected by this issue so that was our first step,” said Furda. “We held the very first Career Trek Innovation Night and brought families together to outline the problem and ask them to generate ideas.”
Through open dialogue and various breakout sessions, the concept for Pre-School Trek was born.
“Using the input from the group we were able to develop an idea that draws on the strengths of the family and community at the same time,” said Furda. “And it’s the combination of the two that we feel will lead to long term success.”
Pre-School Trek consists of two primary components. The first is a take-home family toolkit designed to engage children in reading and number-based learning through fun and interactive activities and exercises. The toolkit won’t be geared to accomplish monumental gains overnight, but rather to achieve one or two notches on established benchmarks during a six to nine-month period.
The second major component of Pre-School Trek is a unique approach to injecting community spirit into the project.
“So often we see and experience mass community support for things like youth sports and we believe a family working toward giving their children a better life through education deserves that same level of enthusiasm,” said Furda. “If you drive around a family neighbourhood on any given summer night you’ll likely find fields of families supporting each other for something like soccer. We want to create that same kind of energy for educating our children.”
With that goal in mind, Preschool Trek includes plans for regularly scheduled community gatherings that celebrate the learning achievements children have made and to give parents an opportunity to touch base with education professionals and other families as a means of mutual support.
“The benefits of this type of a program could be immense,” said Furda. “Using the Pre-School Trek model parents will know the skills required once their children hit school age and they’ll be given the resources and support they need to help bridge any gaps that may exist.”
As for where Furda and Career Trek are in the challenge process, the toolkit prototype is now under development and testing of the model will take place between now and summer, 2019, followed by reporting and evaluation.
“We need to develop a sense of ownership when it comes to our children’s ability to succeed in school, and not just at the family level but the community level as well,” said Furda. “In the next twelve months or so we’re hoping to show that Pre-School Trek can put us on the right path to achieving just that.”