On Your Mark
Tutoring and mentoring program
Est. 2001 by
Working Women Community Centre
The Portuguese community here is very active... There is always someone willing to help. Probably because people are not in their country – Sandra Emiliano.
The high rate of school dropout and academic underachievement among Portuguese-Canadian students in Toronto has been a systemic issue in this community since its inception. In response, members of the Portuguese community in Toronto launched the free tutoring and mentoring program On Your Mark in 2001. Its success has led it to expand its services to students from other Lusophone and Hispanic backgrounds.
The high rate of school dropout and academic underachievement among Portuguese-Canadian students in Toronto has been a systemic issue in this community since its inception. Several studies over the years have revealed a confluence of factors behind this phenomenon, including: systemic discrimination by teachers; the parents’ lack of formal education and fluency in English, and lack of familiarity with the school system (especially those who immigrated prior to 1974), and the readily available and relatively well-paid opportunities in low- or semi-skilled construction jobs. Together with members of the Portuguese Educators Network, the Working Women Community Centre secured three-year funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to launch a tutoring and mentoring program for students of Portuguese descent in 2000, which became On Your Mark the following year.
Initially designed for Portuguese students, the program has since grown to include other Lusophone and Hispanic students in the city. Since it started, On Your Mark has aided more than 3,700 students, at a rate of about 200 a year, in 107 schools in both of Toronto’s school boards (as of 2023). Most tutors, supervisors, teacher candidates, and administrative staff supporting this program (251 in 2019-2020) are volunteers from various backgrounds.
The program runs after school and on Saturday mornings, when one-hour long tutoring sessions are tailored to the individual needs of each student, with a particular emphasis on literacy and math. The program also runs parent and youth workshops on various topics of interest. Despite the ongoing academic underachievement of Portuguese-Canadian students, On Your Mark has been largely successful with the students that have used this program – in 2017-2018, 80% of the students who went through the program later pursued post-secondary education.
Hora dos Portugueses
Working Women Community Centre, “Working Women Community Centre Education Programs, May 2019”
Working Women Community Centre, “On Your Mark 2019/2020: Final Report June 2020.”