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A mother of three school-aged children, Paulina Martinez-Morales recognized her middle child could use some extra support to succeed in school and life.

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So Martinez-Morales was one of many parents who volunteered their time and knowledge to help develop a new local program aimed at improving math and literacy skills for children in Grades 2 to 7.

A collective of Windsor-Essex community partners known as ProsperUs unveiled on Tuesday a Cradle to Career initiative known as Ignite Academy at General Brock Elementary School in Windsor.

Ignite Academy will provide academic support that aligns with the school curriculum and also offers daily programming focused on nutrition, recreation and cultural activities for 360 students across three priority neighborhoods in West Windsor, downtown Windsor and Leamington.

Selected children from Brock, Begley, Immaculate Conception, St. James, St. Louis and Queen Elizabeth elementary schools will begin receiving extra help through the academy this fall.

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“My seven-year-old son struggles with math and literacy, especially after COVID,” said Martinez-Morales, whose family lives in Leamington. “He’s very active and he didn’t like to sit in front of the computer for class.

“Since coming here from Mexico almost five years ago I could see that my children needed more support here. We need more programs like this.”

Jessica Sartori, CEO of John McGivney Children’s Center and co-chair of the ProsperUs leadership council, noted a number of civic-minded organizations formed an investors’ group committed to funding Ignite Academy at $1.57 million annually over the next five years.

“We know math and literacy skills are critical indicators of future success, including having more students graduate high school and having more graduates move on to post-secondary education,” Sartori said.

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Rahf Fadhil, Ishaq Abdirahman and Zack Small were among a group of General Brock school students on Tuesday who helped launch Ignite Academy, offering extra support in math and literacy to students in Grades 2 to 7 starting in the fall.
Rahf Fadhil, Ishaq Abdirahman and Zack Small were among a group of General Brock school students on Tuesday who helped launch Ignite Academy, offering extra support in math and literacy to students in Grades 2 to 7 starting in the fall. Photo by Mary Caton /Windsor Star

Sartori said the effort started in September 2018 when parents, residents, youth and social service providers began brainstorming about how to break down barriers faced by some local families and “design solutions that will help students be successful in school from cradle to career.”

Barriers identified during public consultation included access to transportation and technology, a lack of awareness of existing supports, a lack of multilingual supports, negative stigma associated with using existing services and a lack of opportunities for parents to engage with staff and participate in programming.

As children become armed with stronger math and literacy skills, the ultimate goal of Ignite Academy is to reduce child poverty in the Windsor-Essex community.

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United Way/Centraide Windsor-Essex County will oversee the program’s impact to ensure it offers a pathway “to change the lives of kids in this community,” said United Way CEO Lorraine Goddard.

A lengthy list of community partners combining resources to deliver the program includes the Greater Essex County District School Board, the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board, Big Brothers Big Sisters, CommUnity Partnership, Family Services Windsor Essex, Multicultural Council of Windsor & Essex County , South Essex Community Council, Advocating Young Minds and Arts Can Teach.

Goddard recalled how some ideas were literally scribbled on a napkin as civic leaders worked out “how to make this work in the community.”

General Brock school principal Clayton Callow can walk down any hallway and see a student who will benefit from this new initiative.

“It will provide them with some after-school opportunities they might not otherwise have,” Callow said. “During the pandemic, a lot of the supports we had vanished.

“This is a nice piece that feels like we’re getting some of those supports back in the community.”

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