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Centre for Urban Schooling

CUS Research Projects


Since its inception, the Centre for Urban Schooling has been involved in a number of research projects at the school, community, and government levels. This section describes the research projects underway this year.

Research at CUS is organized into a number of themes relevant to urban education:

  • Anti-oppression policies and pedagogy 
  • Artistic and cultural production
  • Community and neighbourhood dynamics
  • Development of social capital
  • Globalization, immigration and economic restructuring
  • Policies and programs that have an impact on children and youth
  • Power relations and social inequality
  • School leadership and institutional change
  • Student engagement and achievement


Current Research Projects   

Culturally Responsive Teaching Practices (CRTP) for Engaging Urban Secondary School Students

Project Timeline: 2008 – Ongoing
Principal Investigator(s): Dr. Lance T. McCready
CUS Researcher(s): Dr. Dominique Rivière (Project Coordinator), David Montemurro (Project Coordinator), Dr. Claire Kosnik, Dr. Nicole West-Burns, Dr. Leslie Stewart Rose, Darlene Avis-Pottinger, Beverly Caswell
CUS Graduate Student(s): Krista Craven
Research Theme: School Leadership and Institutional Change

The purpose of the CRTP project is to identify innovative, culturally responsive, classroom teaching practices, across academic subject areas, that foster the engagement of students in secondary schools facing challenging circumstances. The
four guiding questions of CRTP are:

1. How do a select number of urban secondary teachers define Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT)?
2.  How do a select number of urban secondary teachers practice CRT?
3. How have a select number of urban secondary teachers developed CRT strategies?
4. What barriers do urban secondary teachers face in CRT?

Through interviews with teachers in secondary schools serving underserved urban
neighbourhoods in Toronto, we aim to identify and support the development of curricular content, instructional practices, and assessment and evaluation strategies that foster
meaningful student involvement throughout the learning environment.

Funding: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Institutional Grant; Ontario
Council of Directors of Education, Inquiry into Practice Project 

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My Regent Park: Mobilizing and Mentoring Youth, Regent Park

Project Timeline: 2008 – 2013
Community Partner(s): Kate Stark, Dixon Hall (lead agency); Sandra Ryan, Salvation Army 614; Adonis Huggins, Regent Park Focus Youth Media Arts Centre; Ian Edwards, Toronto Kiwanis Boys and Girls Clubs; Sheila Braidek, Regent Park Community Health Centre; Debra Dineen, Christian Resource Centre
CUS Researcher(s): Dr. Dominique Rivière, Dr. Nicole West-Burns
Research Theme: Community and Neighbourhood Dynamics

The organizing framework for this project is the Spergel Model (a.k.a. Comprehensive Gang Model). The five core components – Community Mobilization, Social Intervention, Opportunities Provision, Suppression, and Organizational Change and Development – satisfy the Regent Park community's desire to develop an integrated, broad-based response to youth gang activity in the area.  A local consortium of community-based agencies in Regent Park is working with 240 youth through a variety of strategies to prevent gang involvement for youth at risk of becoming so, and to reduce the risks associated with gang involvement for youth who are already gang-involved.  These strategies include:

•    identifying and linking at-risk or gang-involved youth with supports and services, 
•    creating opportunities for at-risk or gang-involved youth to explore other opportunities,
•    supporting parents and families of at-risk or gang-involved youth, 
•    highlighting and building individual and community resiliency in relation to loss and transition, and 
•    supporting local agencies in working together more effectively.

The Centre for Urban Schooling has provided research and development support to MY Regent Park since its inception, and will serve as the internal evaluators for the duration of the project.

Funding: National Crime Prevention Council, Crime Prevention Action Fund

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Proyecto Latin@: Exploring the Experiences of Latin@ Youth in Toronto Schools

Project Timeline: 2008 → Ongoing
Principal Investigator(s): Dr. Rubén Gaztambide-Fernández
CUS Researcher(s): Dr. Nicole West-Burns
CUS Graduate Student(s): Cristina Guerrero
CUS Intern: Tanya Jordan (SPICE)
TDSB Collaborative Research Team: Monica Rosas, Karen Galeano, Vladimir Vallecilla
Research Theme: Student Engagement and Achievement

The focus of Proyecto Latin@ is to better understand the experiences of Latino/a students within the TDSB. What are the factors that influence whether students stay in school or leave? What do the students themselves identify as ways in which schools can engage them in their own educational process and support their achievement and success?

According to Toronto District School Board (TDSB) research released in April 2008, students of Latin American heritage from Spanish-speaking homes have consistently low achievement levels across various school subjects and standardized literacy tests.
Especially troublesome is the TDSB’s finding that roughly 40 percent of Latino/a students do not complete secondary school. This alarming information raised the concern of Toronto’s Latino/a community. At the behest of the community, CUS researchers and the TDSB Office for Student and Community Equity have collaborated to explore the issues that surround Latino student engagement and educational experiences. The project seeks to put forth a critical understanding of some of the issues affecting the schooling experiences of Latin@ youth. While there is abundant scholarly work on this topic for the United States context, it remains largely unaddressed in Canada. The project aims to develop a research agenda by identifying critical issues and developing arobust theoretical framework that might support the development of strategies for curbing school-leaving patterns among Latin@ youth.

Eventually, CUS hopes continue collaborating with the TDSB by using Proyecto Latin@’s research design to explore the issues surrounding the school-leaving rates of other “at-risk” groups identified by the TDSB (e.g. students from the English-speaking Caribbean, Somali students, Portuguese students, and Aboriginal students).

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Putting Inner City Students First (PICSF): A School-University-Community Partnership

Project Timeline: 2008 – 2011
Principal Investigator(s): Dr. Kathleen Gallagher
CUS Researchers: Dr. Dominique Rivière (Project Coordinator), Dr. Eunice Jang, Dr. Jim Cummins, Dr. Sarfaroz Niyozov, Dr. Caroline Fusco, Dr. Joseph Flessa
CUS Graduate Student(s): Celeste Dixon, Ivan Service
Research Theme: Policies and programs that have an impact on children and youth

Global events and immigration patterns in the last decade have dramatically changed the cultural and political landscape of Canada and the world. The PICSF project is
considering the impact of these changes on public schools, especially those located in
urban areas. The PICSF study is directly connected to the Toronto District School
Board's Model Schools for Inner Cities initiative, and will produce a series of case studies that document the processes of change in both the designated Model Schools, and their cluster schools. The case studies are grouped thematically, under the following categories: schooling, student engagement and academic achievement; schooling and social equity; and schooling and community connections.

Funding: Ontario Council of Directors of Education, Inquiry into Practice Project

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The Role of Community Outreach in the Toronto District School Board Model Schools: A Multi-Case Research Study 

Project Timeline: 2008 – 2010
Principal Investigator(s): Dr. Eunice Jang
CUS Researcher(s): Dr. Dominique Rivière (Project Coordinator), Jeff Kugler, Dr. Nicole West-Burns
CUS Interns: Michael Howey (SP7: Students at Risk), Tanya Jordan (SPICE), Carly McLean (SPICE)
Research Theme: Community and Neighbourhood Dynamics

Within the framework of the TDSB’s Office of Parent and Community Involvement Policy
and the Model Schools for Inner Cities initiative, there is a renewed interest in the role
that parental and community involvement can play in schools to support student success, particularly in underserved communities. In 2008, the TDSB, under its Equity
Department, hired twenty-four Community Support Workers (CSWs) to work with the
Model Schools and their cluster communities to foster school community relationships,
promote parental engagement, contribute to equity in the schools, and make sure that
the needs of “at-risk” students are met. The goal of the CSW position is to “develop,
engage and participate in system-wide parent and community engagement/partnership
initiatives that close the achievement gap and enhance student success.”

There are two main purposes of the Role of Community Outreach study: first, it is
intended to understand how community support work operates in the context of specific
underserved communities to address the needs of students, and what is the value added
that community outreach brings to Model Schools. Secondly, this research will present a
complete analysis of what strategies have worked best for each of the schools, the
results achieved, and some of the lessons learned. The final report from this study will
provide the TDSB Equity Committee Department, along with some indicators and tools
that will ensure the Department’s own capability to gather relevant data and benchmark
their achievements.

Funding: Toronto District School Board, Office of Student and Community Equity

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The Urban Arts High Schools Project

Project Timeline: 2007 → Ongoing
Principal Investigator(s): Dr. Rubén Gaztambide-Fernández
CUS Researcher(s):  Dr. Dominique Rivière
CUS Graduate student(s):  Kate Cairns, Yuko Kawashima, Jorge Arcila, Sarah Switzer, Lydia Menna, Elena VanderDussen, Zahra Murad, Salima Bhimani, Lia Gladstone
U of T Undergraduate Student(s): Harry Au, Jackie Howell
Research Theme: Artistic and Cultural Production

Toronto has the virtue of having the largest number of public arts high schools of any major urban region in the world. In the last twenty-five years there has been a veritable explosion of specialized arts programs. Often the rationale for these specialized programs is that they prepare talented students to become artists in the future. The literature is abundant regarding the importance of such programs for student learning, yet, there is little research done on the public role that these programs play or their significance for influencing educational reform. What public roles and responsibilities will these future artists fulfill? How might the experiences of students and teachers working in these schools inform the development of other arts programs in urban centres?

The Urban Arts High Schools Project seeks to document the structure of these
specialized arts programs, their approaches to curriculum and pedagogy, their histories, and the experiences of their students. This project will generate themes and questions that will inform future research on public arts high schools and illuminate what actually happens in these settings. In addition, this research will inform policy discussions by documenting different approaches to arts-focused programs and how these are implemented in different schools. This documentation will act as a rich foundation for considering how to develop arts programs with different goals in other urban schools.

Funding: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Research & Development Initiative

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Using Applied Theatre to Change School Culture: An Impact Evaluation of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario’s 2007-2008 Poverty and Education Project

Project Timeline: 2007-2008
Principal Investigator(s): Dr. Kathleen Gallagher
CUS Graduate Student(s): Burcu Nteliouglou, Ken Huynh, Esther Leung, 
Ivan Service
CUS Researcher(s):  Luisa Sotomayor
Research Theme: Anti-opression policies and pedagogy

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) approached Dr. Kathleen Gallagher to assess the impact of ETFO’s provincial Poverty and Education Project, particularly its Whole School Support initiative. This strategy used applied theatre, professional development workshops, and school grants to: 1) allow teachers to explore their assumptions about poverty and its impact on students and deepen their understanding of the complexities of poverty; and 2) explore how teachers can work together in a school and with their community to mitigate the effects of poverty on student achievement and encourage discussion regarding assumptions of the role of family/home life. This research was conducted in eight districts across Ontario. The final report to ETFO was completed in December 2008. Applied Theatre proved to be a highly effective way to initiate difficult dialogue about poverty among staff and students in the schools.

Funding: Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario

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Urban School Performances (USP): The Interplay, through Live and Digital Drama, of Local-Global Knowledge about Urban Education

Project Timeline: 2008 – 2011
Principal Investigator(s):  Dr. Kathleen Gallagher
CUS Graduate Student(s):  Burcu Ntelioglou, Barry Freeman, Anne Wessels, Ivan Service, Sarah Switzer, Casey Scott-Songin
International Collaborators: Dr. Christina Marín (New York University, New York),
Dr. Urvashi Sahni (The Study Hall Education Foundation,India).  Dr. Sue Chien-ling (Ming-chuan University, Taiwan).
Research Theme: Artistic and Cultural Production

USP is an international research project examining how the relationships among culture, identity, multiculturalism and immigration policies play out differently in the lives of youth in schools and communities traditionally labelled “disadvantaged” in the cities of Kaoushing (Taiwan), Lucknow (India), New York City (USA), and Toronto (Canada). In these diverse contexts, USP engages youth, teachers and researchers in a creative inquiry using digital-drama research tools in order to examine the experiences and explore the performances of engagement/disengagement of youth. We are asking how
schools and young people “perform”, socially, academically, and artistically. To this end, the research studies both the cultural and everyday performances (of student/school life) and the artistic performances created by youth in the particular context of theatre work.

Funding: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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