Teaching kids how win on the field and in life
published September 21, 2012
When Ardavan Eizadirad (BEd ’12, BA ’12) was growing up, he wanted to be a pro player in the NBA. He was point guard on the school basketball team, and his free time was spent on the court or in the gym shooting hoops with his friends. Although he eventually chose a different career path, Eizadirad took to heart the ultimate lesson of sport—that teamwork, cooperation, and self-confidence can transform a person.
This idea also informed Eizadirad’s decision to earn an undergraduate degree in kinesiology and a Bachelor of Education at York University—a choice that’s given him a unique perspective in his current summer position. For the last three years, Eizadirad has worked as a senior camp counsellor at Moorelands, a non-profit organization that runs a seven-week summer camp serving approximately 1,500 six to twelve year-olds from the Flemingdon Park and Thorncliffe Park— two of the 13 Toronto neighbourhoods that have been designated as “priority areas” by the City due to a high level of poverty and a lack of social services.
“When a lot of new immigrants come to Canada, they mostly apply for government housing, and government housing is all located within these high priority neighbourhoods,” says Eizadirad. Both Flemingdon Park and Thorncliffe Park are home to a high percentage of people living under the poverty line, in rental housing, with mother languages other than English. In both areas, a full 67 percent of the population are immigrants, and between 22 and 25 percent are under the age of fourteen.
Eizadirad paints a picture of what the numbers mean. “Priority neighbourhoods are overpopulated. Once you have an overpopulated area, there’s a lack of resources so all these people have to compete for the jobs. Plus there’s a lack of services in the community so you have all these children, and what are they going to do with their free time?”
Gang activity or selling drugs can be attractive to young people in the absence of services, green space, programs or jobs. That’s where counsellors like Eizadirad and his sports ethos comes in. “Once you see them in a sports context, they look up to you as a role model or a mentor. You get them in a social program, whether it’s sports or camps and over time you can see these kids becoming better decision-makers. And in the long run, when they find themselves in a situation where they have to make a hard decision, whether it’s selling drugs or joining a gang, they’re ready to think harder about how that decision will impact their lives.”
Moorelands focuses on kids six to twelve years old because, as Eizadirad says, it’s an optimal time for youth to develop life skills and character traits. “They’ll set the foundation of who they are as individuals.”
The program centres on what Eizadirad calls “the four Cs”: confidence, character development, competence, and making connections. Every activity must promote at least one of these ideas, and there is always a debrief. “When the kids leave the program at five o’clock, they go out into the world and continue on being responsible sons or daughters.”
This summer, the relevance and efficacy of these kinds of community services was challenged after several high-profile shootings happened in the Greater Toronto Area.Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford responded by declaring a “war on gangs”, and made comments on his AM640 radio show that he’d rather fund police services than community programs. “I don’t believe in these programs,” he told reporters. “I call them hug-a-thug programs— they haven’t been very productive in the past and I don’t know why they are continuing with them.”
Eizadirad can answer that question. “The problem with politicians is they always want short-term results and so they don’t see things in the long-term. A lot of kids are the product of their environment—there’s no such thing as a bad kid. If we can alter their environment and have positive role models in their lives and have a support system, we can guide them to make better decisions.”
Further, Eizadirad argues, a “war on gangs” stance makes no fiscal sense. “If we spend money being tough on crime…say we put a hundred kids away and put them in jail, if we don’t change that environment, my belief is there will be a hundred new kids that will come and take their place.”
The same theory holds true for positive outcomes. In his three years at Moorelands, Eizadirad has seen thousands of kids go through the program, and many of them come back year after year. “There is also volunteer programming, so a lot of the kids, once they’re done at 12 or 13 or 14—when they enter high school—they come back as volunteers. And when they’re old enough, they apply to become counsellors.”
Eizadirad creditsYork’s interdisciplinary approach to social issues with equipping him for the complexities of his work. “In both my kinesiology and education classes, I was encouraged to critically analyze everything. Things in this society are not black or white, right or wrong.”
It’s a lesson Eizadirad hopes to pass on. In September, he will be starting his Master’s at OISE (the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education) at the University of Toronto, majoring in sociology and education with a focus on equity studies. “Being a teacher is the ultimate for me, just to have that level of interaction with the kids. It’s all about them.”
Teaching kids how win on the field and in life,