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"Beat The Streets": A New Concept In Education

Ivan Morin

From the tough streets of Toronto to the back streets of Regina for many people, "Beat the Street" has been the only way to get an education. A few years ago two ex-convicts in Toronto decided not enough was being done to educate ex-cons, or those who live on city streets. Tracy LaQuyere and Rick Parsons, both ex-cons recognized the need and set up "Beat the Street" as an educational program for them.

Since it's humble beginnings in 1985, Beat the Street has expanded to a number of Canadian cities, including Regina. Donna Beadle, of the Muscowpetung Reserve, coordinates the Regina program, with office support worker, Dorothy Wilson.

Beadle says that she didn't realize the need for the program until she started working at Beat the Street. "I didn't realize the illiteracy problem in Regina. People between the ages of sixteen and 25 make up the bulk of our students but we have students that are older", says Beadle.

A number of teaching techniques are used in the program, such as using the signs, license plates, menus, grocery stores, and many other everyday items you can read, or use the numbers from. Some students go to Beat the Street to brush up for the GED equivalency program, while some go there simply to recognize signs to write driver's license exams, or to learn how to fill out forms.

Another interesting aspect to Beat the Street is its reciprocal nature: many of the tutors are former students. "We have tutors who have come in here and finished their program or are advanced enough in their program that they are able to help other students with the program", says Beadle.

Beat the Street is currently talking with the Correctional Service of Canada, the National Parole Board, Youth Probation, Mobile Crisis Unit, and other agencies to bring the program to their clients. Beat the Street is also offered in a number of Canadian Penitentiaries.

In an interview with the Saskatchewan Indian, Parsons says that, "We don't try to sell the program. We just make it available."

Dorothy Wilson and Donna Beadle
(L-R): Dorothy Wilson and Donna Beadle

"Before us, nobody was approaching the street people and offering them an education. If you stop looking at people like they're wrong, then they are very approach able." says Parsons. Beadle says the reason that she feels the program has been successful to this point, is that people enter into the program by themselves. "Not everybody is willing to learn when you want them to, but they'll learn when they decide to learn."

While Beadle looks after the office routine, Wilson scouts the city parks, arcades, the Salvation Army, and other places prospective students might frequent. Wilson says that at present, native students make up eighty-five percent of their student ratio. Bringing them into the program is easy because it is so informal. "Many students like the idea of working on their own and not having a strict curriculum to work in", says Wilson.

Beadle and Beat the Street are helping the Touchwood File Hills, Fort Qu'Appelle District Chiefs to develop the Beat the Street program for their district. As well, Beat the Street is looking to set up in a number of other western Canadian cities.

Tutors for the program are put through a course which explains the do's and don't's of the program. The course is held every Wednesday night from seven to eight. As well, a formal rap session with students and tutors is held every Monday evening. Beat the Street is located at 1110-11th Avenue in Regina. Anyone interested in attending can just drop by and see Donna and Dorothy.