In Regent Park, students become the teachers

Student volunteer Thivija Ramajeyam and program participant Johura Jaigirdar chat in a classroom at the Regent Park Learning Centre on Feb. 3, 2011. Mohammed Shafique, a 23-year-old commerce graduate from Regent Park, is looking for funding to support a program the women are involved with called Youth Empowering Parents, in which students form Regent Park teach newcomer parents English and computer skills.

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A twist on mother tongues

Youth Empowering Parents is a three-hour weekend ESL and computer skills class. Each adult is paired with a young volunteer from the same linguistic and cultural background.

She decided to come to YEP when her children got frustrated with trying to teach her English.

Her teacher is Hoore Jannat, 13.

“I came because I like helping people,” says Jannat, who was born in Bangladesh but came to Canada at age three.

Jaigirdar says working with Jannat is more like learning from a friend than a teacher. “If I don’t understand something, she can explain it to me in my own language,” she says.

The program, run out of the Regent Park Centre of Learning, wrapped up a pilot session in December. The second semester began on the weekend.

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It all happens in an ordinary-looking ESL classroom: six opposite-facing wide-screen monitors that display typing programs and the odd YouTube video or online games for students who finish early. And, on this particular weekend at the Regent Park Centre of Learning, an ordinary end-of-semester event is taking place, as students and teachers alike receive accolades of distinction for their progress and hard work. But at Youth Empowering Parents, that’s where the similarities to most other ESL programs in Toronto end. Here, the teachers are still in public school and the students are twice their age.

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