Across a noisy classroom in the heart of Jane and Finch, children are brainstorming letters to the mayor about what they want to see gone from this city.

It’s not the list you might expect from seven- and eight-year-olds.

“Guns.” “Rats.” “Gangs.” “Shooting.” “Raping — it could hurt or kill people.”

Grade 3 student Jennifer Nguyen wants David Miller to “stop these two guys from fighting near my house. Their arms are always bleeding and I don’t like it.”

Aiz Baloch says he’s proud to live in the neighbourhood where he takes this unusual program, so he wants Miller to target the graffiti he says “makes the world seem dirty.”

They are two of 1,500 grade school students across Toronto’s seven most needy neighbourhoods who have been invited to school each morning this month to try to raise their grasp of the 3 Rs to meet the Ontario standard.

Here at Firgrove Public School and the six other locations, teachers are test-driving new lesson plans written to appeal to inner-city children whose life stories often are missing from the regular curriculum.
The program has chosen books and topics that range from apartment living to child labour and how to transform a community.

“Look, most of these kids haven’t read Snow White and haven’t been to Disney World. Many of them knew the dad who was shot a while back playing basketball in a school playground,” said former Firgrove principal Vicky Branco, who oversees this new $300,000 program.

Almost every student who was offered the free academic help agreed, he said, and now there is a waiting list.

The new summer school program is part of the Toronto District School Board’s long-range plan to cut dropout rates by wrapping the most needy 15 per cent of students in extra help — even in summer. It’s an extension of the “Model Schools for Inner Cities” pilot project, which gives $1 million a year to each of seven clusters of schools in low-income neighbourhoods.