Helping Young Offenders Learn To Read And Write

Photo: (L to R) UWinnipeg students Jason Garton, Tatiana Carnevale, McKenzie Jane Hill, Grant Andruchuk with Education Professor and Coordinator of Mentoring Alan Wiebe (Center).

Photo: (L to R) UWinnipeg students Jason Garton, Tatiana Carnevale, McKenzie Jane Hill, Grant Andruchuk with Education Professor and Coordinator of Mentoring Alan Wiebe (Center).

WINNIPEG, MB – In a unique pilot project, the first of its’ kind in Manitoba, four University of Winnipeg student teachers are working one-on-one with young car thieves who are functionally illiterate to help them develop skills and self-confidence. Along the way, the soon-to-be-educators, all in their fourth and fifth year in the Faculty of Education, say they are learning as much as they are teaching.

UWinnipeg students Jason Garton, Tatiana Carnevale, McKenzie Jane Hill and Grant Andruchuk volunteered to take part in the first ever Auto Theft Unit Literacy Project, run by Manitoba Justice. They began working with a dozen or so young male offenders, aged 13 to 19, in October. The goal is to mentor youth so they can read, write and eventually learn life skills such as resume-writing and interviewing for jobs.

“I thought this would be a great way to expand my experience beyond the classroom, it is a different way of connecting with youth,” said McKenzie. “It really opened my eyes to what happens in this city. I learned that education is such a privilege, and there are so many obstacles facing some of these youth. Just having them show up…it’s a big deal.”

Jason, now in his thirties, says he can relate because he was a youth-at-risk himself who dropped out of school in Grade 9. “A family member had involvement with the Youth Center, there was stealing and other stuff going on, so I feel I have been there, and seen that,” he said. “Working with these youth has really shown me how important it is to look past the labels and the preconceived notions and to be open to seeing who is really there.” Jason credits a strong mother who stood by him for turning his life around and allowing him to enter University as an adult.

The pilot project came about because the Province identified a need for basic literacy skills in the youth they were seeing.

For Grant the opportunity to mentor a young offender has meant learning new skills that he can take with him when he graduates this spring. “If I am in a classroom and a kid is acting out, I will look at the why – the reality of what that’s kid’s life is all about. It’s about building a relationship and building trust.”

Tatiana is poised to graduate as well this spring. “I am really interested in theatre and social justice and I think that can work with youth at risk. I have learned that it is okay to want to connect and be a consistent and supportive figure to this group. This is not just about literacy, it is about the give and take, it is a circle.”

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MEDIA CONTACT

Diane Poulin, Communications Officer, The University of Winnipeg

P: 204.988.7135, E: d.poulin@uwinnipeg.ca

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