New Brunswick is throwing financial support behind a district-developed and private-business-funded program for children struggling with literacy.
On Monday, the government announced it will spend $3 million over two years so kindergarten to Grade 2 students in Saint John can continue getting in-class help.
The "When Children Succeed" project was developed by the Anglophone South School District and funded by a non-profit created by the business community.
Its goal is to give extra attention to young students who have trouble reading and writing, so by the time they're in Grade 3, the gap between them and their peers has been reduced.
Saint John could be a leader, and the province could fund similar programs elsewhere, said Trevor Holder, the minister of post-secondary education, training and labour speaking to a crowd at Hazen White-St. Francis School.
"If this works, and we know that it will, we're going to be there to support it going forward," he said. "We'll be there to take other initiatives like this across the province."
The Business Community Anti-Poverty Initiative financed the program for the last the last four years at seven schools in the Saint John region. Those schools will continue to have the program, and they are:
Seaside Park Elementary School
Glen Falls School
Princess Elizabeth School
Prince Charles School
St. John the Baptist / King Edward School
Hazen White-St. Francis School
Roxanne Fairweather, co-CEO of Innovatia and president of the anti-poverty initiative, said the majority of students at the seven schools are in neighbourhood where the poverty rate is around 90 per cent.
"When you are behind … you need more resources," she said.
"We must help every child achieve their educational goals … the future of our province depends on this."
New Brunswick has a functional illiteracy rate of 56 per cent, said Education Minister Dominic Cardy.
"We want you to have the best possible future you possibly can dream of," he told the children in the audience.
In a news release, the province said New Brunswick graduation rate has been about 84 per cent over the past five years.
This is one of the highest graduation rates in Canada overall, the release said, but data shows the rate among students who started at the seven schools targeted by this program is about 70 per cent.
Holder said about 700 children will receive help by this program in the next few years.The program could also be implemented in other parts of the province if it continues to be successful.
Cardy said the project is proof that "we don't live in silos," and different sectors can work together to help students.
"We know that if a child hasn't been given the opportunity … It's so much harder to catch up," he said.