Post-Symposium: Enhancing Equity in Ontario Elementary Education

The Enhancing Equity in Ontario Elementary Education Symposium was held virtually and in-person at Toronto Metropolitan University, on October 11th and 12th, 2023. Enhancing Equity in Ontario Education is a project led by Dr. Sejal Patel (Early Childhood Studies, Toronto Metropolitan University), in partnership with Dr. Alana Butler from Queen’s University, Dr. Adam Davies from University of Guelph, Dr. George Dei from University of Toronto, Dr. Nicholas Ng-A-Fook from University of Ottawa, Dr. Vidya Shah from York University, Dr. Janelle Brady and Dr. Kathryn Underwood from Toronto Metropolian University, Tesa Fiddler from Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board, Max Cooke from EdCan Network, Stephen Hurley from voicEd Radio, Courtnay McFarlane from Regent Park Community Health Centre, and Annie Kidder and Dr. Robin Liu Hopson from People for Education. 

The Symposium invited participation by all Ontario district school boards, education stakeholders, and scholars focused on educational equity and human rights (considering Black and Indigenous students, newcomer/international students, racialized students, students living in low socioeconomic neighbourhoods, student who identify as 2SLGBTQIA+, disabled students, and other intersectionalities), to allow for sharing of promising practices around equity-based initiatives, along with providing space to reflect on and commit to taking greater action in support of enhanced equity for elementary school students. 

Video Recap:

As we begin 2024, we reflect on the inspiring conversations that took place at the Enhancing Equity in Ontario Elementary Education symposium. The symposium provided opportunities to share and consider promising practices regarding enhancing equity for elementary students. We received wonderful feedback about the logistics, moderated discussions, panels, and presentations, and are grateful for all of the dialogue and action that the symposium attendees continue to inspire. 

Our heartfelt appreciation goes out to all of the presenters, symposium staff and volunteers. Your collaboration, support, and effort helped to ensure that the symposium ran as smoothly as possible. 

Thank you all for your participation in this important event. Stay tuned for podcasts and symposium proceedings, which will be mobilized through this website.  

Enhancing Equity in Ontario Elementary Education Symposium

Join us at the upcoming two-day Enhancing Equity in Ontario Elementary Education symposium on October 11th  and 12th, 2023 (information about the organizing research advisory committee and two-day program can be found at ). The in-person symposium will include representatives of school boards and community organizations.

We will be live-streaming the in-person symposium to a virtual event management system and are opening up registration for anyone to attend virtually. We are hoping that virtual registration will improve accessibility of this event across Ontario.

All attendees will have access to French-English and ASL interpretation options, along with captioning in French and English. 

Registration can be completed online at . Select from the virtual participation options.

Virtual registration is currently scheduled to close on Friday, October 6th, 2023. 

If you have any questions, please contact:

SSHRC Research Story

We are pleased to share that SSHRC invited Dr. Sejal Patel to be interviewed about GEEC research in November of 2022. This was shared through SSHRC’s Research Stories on their website, and through the SSHRC ‘Dialogue’ e-Newsletter.

Click here to read the Research Story.

AERA 2022 

Between April 21 and 26, 2022, educators, researchers and community members met for the American Educational Research Association (AERA) annual meeting. This year’s theme was, ‘Cultivating Equitable Education Systems for the 21st Century’. Professor Sejal Patel and her former student Natalie Cummins (M.E.S., M.A.) shared about school administrators’ leadership strategies and practices to foster family-school-community partnerships in a school board-wide equity initiative. Findings suggest that anti-oppression and family-school-community partnership training should be mandatory for leaders in equity-deserving communities. In order to create more equitable outcomes, place must be considered, alongside targeted and tailored leadership strategies. Professor Sejal Patel and Krischanda Bemister (Research Project Manager, GEEC) shared about school-based stakeholders’ perspectives on their neighbourhood, housing redevelopment, social dynamics and sense of belonging. Findings support the importance of including child, teacher and parent voices when planning, implementing and evaluating policy initiatives that directly affect their lives.

Throwback Thursday: AERA 2021

Between April 8 and 12, 2021, educators, researchers and community members virtually met for the American Educational Research Association (AERA) annual meeting. This year’s theme was, ‘Accepting Educational Responsibility’. Dr. Sejal Patel and Maria Yau shared about their community engaged research project studying a large urban school board’s initiative on inner-city students and its structural supports for learning coaches as part of the session.

About Maria Yau

Maria Yee-man Yau was an educational researcher associated with the TDSB for over 30 years. She is currently an educational research consultant working on projects at municipal, provincial and national levels. Maria’s years of research have covered a wide range of equity related issues including understanding and addressing the needs of immigrant and refugee populations, students from diverse racialized backgrounds, English Language Learners, international students, students with disabilities, and low socioeconomic communities. Aside from research, Maria sits on the board of directors of a charitable organization in support of immigrant youth, mentors young people in the workplace and the community, and supports rural education and youth development globally.

Dr. Sejal Patel’s Q&A with the Toronto Star

Article: Coronavirus Q&A: Focus on children’s “social and emotional well-being” Education researcher answers questions on parenting during COVID-19 | Toronto Star

As parents underwent virtual learning challenges in Spring 2020, the Toronto Star invited Dr. Sejal Patel to chat with Star readers who had questions about education during this unprecedented time.

Parents and caregivers shared their questions about how to keep children engaged with online learning and how to socialize young children in a time where social distancing measures were recommended. 

In the Q&A Dr. Patel acknowledged that online learning while maintaining social distancing may increase inequities for children and families with certain families and communities not gaining as much from virtual learning due to their circumstances. She noted that we will have to pay attention to this as a society, working together to support one another, building upon strengths and monitoring progress once we are through the period of distancing (Patel, 2020). Read the full interview here.

In 2016, Dr. Patel published findings from a study investigating the relations between participation in integrated early childhood services and children’s early development. The findings have implications for our circumstances today, with more equitable learning outcomes for 4 and 5 year old children who had greater participation in integrated early childhood programming (including full day kindergarten) in terms of children’s physical health and well-being, language and cognitive development and communication and general knowledge, after taking into consideration demographic, parent and school site factors. 

Access the full study, ‘Dose-response’ relations between participation in integrated early childhood services and children’s early development, here.


Patel, S. (2020, April 6) Coronavirus Q&A: Focus on children’s “social and emotional well-being” Education researcher answers questions on parenting during COVID-19. The Toronto Star.

Patel, S., Corter, C., Pelletier, J., & Bertrand, J. (2016). ‘Dose-response’ relations between participation in integrated early childhood services and children’s early development. Early Childhood Research Quarterly35(Complete), 49–62.

Dr. Sejal Patel speaks to the Toronto Star about homeschooling and parenting amid the COVID-19 pandemic

On April 1, Dr. Sejal Patel who leads the GEEC Research team spoke on the Toronto Star’s new podcast, This Matters, about parenting in the age of the coronavirus.

In the episode, host Saba Eitizaz speaks with Patel, an associate professor of Early Childhood Studies at Ryerson University—and a parent herself—about ways to cope and keep kids engaged during this difficult time.

Listen to Patel’s advice on how to navigate as a parent during this difficult transition.

On Thursday, April 10, Patel will also be answering questions about parenting and home-schooling in the age of COVID-19 at the Toronto Star here.

You can also listen to the episode on Apple PodcastsSpotify.

American Educational Research Association 2019 (AERA)

Dr. Sejal Patel of GEEC Research (left), and TDSB Research Coordinator Maria Yau present their research investigating the ‘mechanisms of change’ in the TDSB’s Model Schools for Inner Cities initiative.

Between April 5 and 9, over 15,000 educators and researchers met in Toronto for the 2019 American Educational Research Association annual meeting. This year’s theme was ‘Leveraging education research in a ‘post-truth era: Multimodal narratives to democratize evidence,’ with a focus on community and practice relevant research. Dr. Sejal Patel and Maria Yau, Research Coordinator, Research & Development, Toronto District School Board shared about the TDSB’s Model Schools in Inner Cities program and their study, Reducing Inequities in Children’s Education Success and Well-being in Marginalized Communities through Innovation in Education as a part of the Equity Innovation in Teaching and Learning session held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Welcome to GEEC


Hello there, we’re GEEC, the Greater Equity in Early Education and Care: Child, Family, and Community Engaged Research team. We are a research collaborative working with community partners to promote equity in learning and care for children through child, family, and community engaged research.

Teaching for Justice: Model Schools for Inner Cities Workshop

In October 2018 at the Teaching for Justice conference in Toronto, the GEEC research group led by Dr. Sejal Patel joined Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Researcher Coordinator Maria Yau and TDSB Model Schools for Inner Cities (MSIC) Program Coordinator Alison Rutherford to share about ongoing MSIC research and practices.

The MSIC initiative aims to reduce inequities and achievement gaps for students in low socioeconomic communities by providing additional supports for schools in Toronto communities. The initiative was first piloted in 2006 in three schools and has since grown to include 150 schools serving 56 000 students (Toronto District School Board, 2017). The goals of the initiative focus on equity, community (including partnerships with families), inclusivity and high expectations for students in inner-city schools. The presentation shared findings from research investigating the MSIC initiative and highlighted some of the conditions for the initiative’s success.

From left to right, Dr. Sejal Patel of GEEC research, TDSB Model Schools Coordinator Alison Rutherford, and TDSB Research Coordinator Maria Yau present findings from ongoing MSIC research and practices.

Patel, Yau and Rutherford shared about the programs and services offered by the TDSB’s MSIC initiative that are guided the initiative’s 5 essential components:

  1. Innovation in teaching and learning practices
  2. Support services to meet the social, emotional, and physical well-being of students
  3. Supporting the view of school as the heart of the community
  4. Frequent research, review, and evaluation of students and program effectiveness
  5. Commitment to share successful practices

The MSIC initiative offers additional educational, health, and well-being support services for students and families, such as nutrition programs, in-school health clinics, before and after school programs and hearing and vision assessments. The initiative strives to make schools the heart of their local communities through supporting family-school-community partnerships, by offering family drop-in programs through on-site Parenting and Family Literacy Centres (now EarlyON Centres), and by encouraging school staff to get to know the communities they work in through community visits and faith walks, among other strategies.

Ongoing research and review of the MSIC initiative has highlighted some key areas of success. Research conducted by the TDSB has found a rise in Grade 6 EQAO reading test scores, increased levels of school readiness and improved resiliency scores in MSIC schools over time. In Ryerson University-TDSB community-partnered qualitative research, families and school staff have spoken about the importance of community-school partnerships, Community Support workers, and programs that support children with disabilities, while the children’s voices highlighted the benefits of relationships with staff in the school including the social workers and the benefits of paediatric health clinics in their schools, among numerous other findings.

The presentation concluded with a discussion of the potential conditions for the MSIC initiative’s continued success. Some topics discuss the role of leadership, additional support and resources to level the playing field for all students, and the role of innovative curriculum in raising expectations for students and addressing social justice issues.

The Teaching for Justice Conference is a yearly conference where educators, students, and community partners gather to discuss issues of social justice, share resources, and meet with others who continue to challenge systems of oppression. To read more about the Teaching for Justice Conference and the other presenters, click here.

To read more about the MSIC initiative, click here.


Toronto District School Board [TDSB]. (2017). Enhancing Equity Task Force: Report and recommendations. Toronto, ON: Author. Retrieved February 14th, 2019 from: