We asked Tokunbo Adegbuyi, an Education Manager based out of Edmonton, about his RBC Raise the Grade experience.
How did you get involved with Boys and Girls Clubs?
I volunteered in my last year of university. I was looking for someway to get involved in the community during my spare time. I really enjoy working with kids, and because I was studying a nutrition and health program, I wanted to do something that benefited young people. I started volunteering at a Boys and Girls Club in my neighborhood. That’s kind of how I first got involved with the Club.
My younger brother actually also works for the Club. He’s currently in university and he does programming on a part-time basis in a series of Club service locations.
My experience at the Club inspired me to start a Master’s program. It’s a Masters in Community Development, and I’m really enjoying it so far.
How did you start learning about the program? What was the process?
When I first started, I was told that my portfolio was working with Club youth, ranging from junior high to high school. I ran programs in different areas, which included academics and “Raise the Grade” three times a week. I got an orientation through a web conference with the other education managers across the country. We were shown how to use the online module and how to use the portal to upload programming. It was a good foundation on how to access and communicate with other education managers. In terms of actually developing the program at the Club, I just saw what other people were doing and I got to know the kids I was working with. I started in the summer time so by September when the program started, I knew what I wanted to do, and I had a good idea of how I wanted to run the program. It worked out really well.
What are some of the specific things that you like about the program?
I love how the approach to programming is dependent on what kind of youth are in the Club. We figured out early on when we were designing the programming and uploading content to the portal that this program is really different because some Clubs would have only junior high or some would only have high school kids. I love the flexibility—at one point I had a crew of mostly junior high and a few high school students, so I would treat it like an enrichment program. One time I taught genetics, which they didn’t actually learn yet in their science classes, so it was new and peaked their interests. We’d have a ‘topic of the week’ and learn new stuff and the kids always loved it.
Then, I started working exclusively with high school students. From there, it became basically a free tutoring and employment workshop program because kids would always be interested in finding out more about jobs and building their resumes and cover letters and conducting interviews. We would do all that, as well as bring in people that understood specific programs and could offer tutoring. We did diploma prep for their big final exams in Alberta, written in grade 12. Usually that type of tutoring can cost hundreds of dollars, but we would it offer for free on a volunteer basis.
The program has changed a lot over the years depending on what generation of kids we are dealing with and what location we are working out of. The program’s flexibility and support has been really beneficial.
What were some of the challenges you ran into before and during the program?
Initially, a big challenge was maintaining a core group. When I was running it out of a community-based Club location, the issue was whether I wanted to have students over a long period of time or just a few weeks. Different kids would come every week. There’d be the core group that really got everything out of the program but then there’d be a bunch of students that just rotated through and we’d have to sometimes start over again. That was always a challenge, but I think that’s just the nature of being in a community setting.
We had some growing pains in the start, determining how this nation-wide program should be run and how we can run a congruent academic program all across the country. In the end, we realized that the program would be different no matter where it went, but as long as the core pillars of supporting academics and supporting life after high school were maintained, it would be successful. Once we got that go-ahead, everything became a lot smoother.
What was your favourite memory or biggest achievement?
At one point, part of the program funding was for a ‘Raise the Grade’ grad dinner for the kids who were finishing the program, and for those who found success in the program. We took twenty grade twelve students out to a restaurant they had never been to before and sat at a big banquet table. We all talked and reminisced. It was right before their actual graduations, so it was the perfect capstone for the end of a good year. Two of them that year had won scholarships, so it was good vibes all around.
I’m still in touch with a lot of the kids that went through the program. A lot of them found employment in the agency and are now my peers. They know that they are able to text me if they need help with anything. I had a kid last year that had graduated but wasn’t sure what he should do next. This year, he reached out to me and we helped him apply to university so now he’s starting his post-secondary program!
What are some things that you see in the kids that indicate improvement?
A lot of the youth leave the program with a heightened understanding of how to navigate post-secondary, how to apply, and what to expect. They come back and tell me that the school tours we took helped, or the advice on first year courses was true. They also have a better understanding of the working world and how to find and secure employment. They know who their networks are and how to create a network. I’m usually a part of that network so I get reference calls still from kids who were in the program last year.
For the ones that are now working at a Boys and Girls Club, we make sure to focus on volunteerism. This helps the kids figure out what they want to do with their life and gain employment down the road. Those who really enjoyed volunteering, or who got to know me and my role, applied to the Boys and Girls Club. And now three of them currently work at the Club in part-time positions as they finish their post-secondary studies! That has been a nice extension of the program.
Why did you choose this career path?
I’m not sure if I choose this or if I fell into it. When I was in school, I did a major in nutrition and food science and a minor in human ecology, akin to social work. I knew I wanted to do health-type programming and I knew I wanted to do it in a community setting. In my last year, when I was volunteering at the Club, I was reading case studies on how to create community-based programming and how you can work with the population directly to increase outcomes. It all kind of aligned for me at the Boys and Girls Club where I got to work directly with kids; I like to work with young people because they’re fun and interesting. When I was volunteering, my supervisor let me know that when I graduate, there’d be a posting for a job working with young people so I should prepare for it. So, I applied for the job and got it.
Through my 4 years with the agency, I’ve pivoted almost completely toward wanting to be a social scientist because you work in more communities and work with more people. You see the different barriers that this type of agency can knock down, and you can see how and where it can get better. I’ve been really interested in that and anytime there’s an opportunity to spread the good word or participate in research, I do it.
It all worked out in the end and that’s what I always tell the kids: there’s no straight lines to these kinds of things so follow your interests.