A few years ago at graduation season, William Wallace and his colleagues found themselves watching a familiar, yet despairing, scenario unfold. In his 15 years as an English teacher at Downsview Secondary School, Mr. Wallace watched students who were extremely capable, make the decision to forego pursuing a post-secondary education because they simply could not afford to attend. This is despite having overcome significant challenges and still excelling academically.
“Growing up is hard. Throw in a bunch of factors: socioeconomic status, mental health, unstable housing, racial injustice… Stress and pressure on young people in those situations are far greater,” Mr. Wallace explained.
As students try to navigate post-secondary careers, those issues compound and they end up missing out on key university experiences such as getting time with professors outside of class to better understand course material or having to skip tutorials because they have to work up to 40 hours a week.
Mr. Wallace walked away from that scene asking himself, “Are we going to talk about the issues, or are we going to do something about it?”
While being a teacher commands a lot of time and focus, Mr. Wallace, along with faculty members at Downsview S.S. began to fundraise for what became the One City Scholarship Fund almost 4 years ago. They began by asking teachers to ask ten friends to donate fifty dollars and have slowly raised up to $500.00 in single donations; teachers have come together over the years, organizing socials and game nights to raise money. He has also found a community partner in the Esther Myers Yoga Studio in the Bloor Street West community and they have donated proceeds from book sales to the One City Fund.
After three years of fundraising, they were able to award four $2,500 scholarship last year to students who were eager to begin their post-secondary careers. The scholarship is disbursed over two years, $1,500 the first year and $1,000 is released in the second year. Mr. Wallace himself graduated from university in 1984, during a time where he was able to earn his tuition in a summer.
“The idea that I have any idea what students need is ridiculous,” Mr. Wallace said as he cited this privilege. He has convened a scholarship committee comprised of teachers and past students who have attended post-secondary education to help pick candidates and provide mentorship to scholarship applicants.
Mr. Wallace believes that the cultivated model of care existing in high school needs to extend beyond that space and the fund is also designed to help bridge the gap. The scholarship is “aimed at students who will benefit from money and mentorship.” Recipients will grow to become mentors to other post-secondary students.
Mr. Wallace contends, “Current insight is brought from recent graduates and those going through university is invaluable.” Candidates need to be academically successful, demonstrate financial need and a capacity to excel. Mr. Wallace describes the past and future recipients of the One City Fund as, “Someone who understands where they are from, where they are going and where they want to be.”
Applications for the scholarship opens on February 19, 2019 and welcomes students who are graduating from high school and entering their first year of post-secondary. Visit the OneCityFund.com to learn more about how to apply or donate. The Fund is trusteed by the Toronto Foundation and is distributed by the Toronto District School Board’s Toronto Foundation for Student Success.