Thanks to de Lyon’s help, BPT is the recipient of a $200,000 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Since October, they’ve been using that funding to host free, weekly STEM tutoring, mentoring and skills workshops in Pickering for Black high school students. The program serves free breakfast and lunch as well as snacks throughout the day.
“Initially the grant was for us to serve students aged 13 to 19 but we started noticing that younger siblings of our high school students: grades 2 to 6 also needed assistance. Thankfully we have some flexibility to accommodate these children. Since then we started enrichment sessions for these children. We have even had a parent who stepped up to tutor them, it’s beautiful,” says de Lyon.
The program is able to accommodate 30 students right now, and currently has a waitlist. “The more tutors we have on board, the more students we can bring in.” BPT is looking for tutors who are well versed in the STEM field and can commit to two Saturdays per month. The organization is also seeking mentors who can commit to one monthly meetup or phone call/email chat.
“Every Saturday we introduce different STEM careers. A lot of students don’t know what kind of other careers are available in this field, like architecture, graphic design and yoga to name a few. We want them to meet Black mentors who are successful in those roles.”
De Lyon says as a yoga teacher herself, she's found that advancing her knowledge in the sciences has helped her expand her yoga therapy practice. "In fact, I am able to work with individuals and groups from various demographics such as athletes, doctors, and students, to name a few, because I chose to further my education in science."
De Lyon says mentorship is the cornerstone of success. “I was in a black mentorship program when I was in high school, but even still I felt I was not good enough. What kept me resilient - when teachers were telling me I didn’t have the necessary skills - was that I could turn to my community for upliftment and the Saturday school I attended as a youth,” she says. Now de Lyon is working towards a Masters in Psychology with a specialization in Neuroscience and Expressive Arts Therapy.
And she is already seeing the direct impact on students attending BPT’s programming.
"We had one grade 9 student come to us, a bright kid but he was terrified of math. His teacher had convinced his mother to enroll him in essential math, which teaches the basic survival mathematics. You can’t get into university with essential math. On the second day of his essential math class, he called his mom crying because he was put into the same class as non verbal students, it was really an injustice to have him in that class. His mother complained and got him out, but then the teacher was holding a grudge against him over the whole issue. His mother was spending $1200 a month on private tutors. She came to us in tears, saying she didn’t know what else to do, but she couldn’t give up on her boy. After one month of tutoring in the BPT program, he went from getting 36% in math to getting 86% on his last test. He’s in applied math now and will be able to transfer to academic math if he keeps it up.”
The focus of the program right now is homework help and mainly attracts students who need academic assistance. But de Lyon has noticed about ⅓ of students coming are already quite advanced but just want to get even better. So next year the program will be adding enrichment activities to push students beyond their perceived potential. De Lyon notices that parents are often verbally encouraging their kids to work harder at school and pursue higher education, but they don’t have the time to really enforce that advice.
"That’s what I hope this program will help with. I hope it lets parents know you don't have to do all the work yourself. As a community - we need to back up our talk with more action. We have to be ok with reaching out to others - allow this place to be the village that helps raise your children. We’ve been at the mercy of so many systems, it feels like we’re always a scapegoat. It serves everyone else to keep us at the bottom. But I think we are doing better than we think. When we do get together, we create magic."
The BPT program starts up again in January. It’s held in the activity room on the main floor of Sara McDonald place in Pickering.