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Helping kids in Toronto's priority neighbourhoods

Public health initiative from U of T students, alumnae

The after-school program developed by U of T's Akanksha Ganguly and Appolonia Cornolius offers lessons in life science and healthy living to kids in priority neighbourhoods (photo by Steph Verschuren)

If you walked by East York’s Thorncliffe Park Public School today, you’d find a quiet middle school as students and teachers enjoy March break.

Akanksha Ganguly, a first-year master's student in U of T’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, welcomes the pause as it allows her team planning time to develop after-school programming for her “SEEDlings.”

Ganguly is co-founder and CEO of S.E.E.D.S. (Supporting, Education, Empowerment and Development through Science), a not-for-profit organization that provides supplemental life science and healthy living education to youth living in priority neighbourhoods of Toronto, including Thorncliffe Park, Flemingdon Park and Crescent Town.

“If kids have a better understanding of how the choices they make today — not smoking or being physically active — affect their body, mind and community, they’re more likely to make healthier choices in the future,” said Ganguly, who is pursuing a Master of Public Health degree with a specialization in Health Promotion.

S.E.E.D.S. is a public health initiative that makes science relevant to everyday life for youth. After-school, summer and March break workshops targeted at children between the ages of seven and 15 have reached more than 150 youth across Toronto.

Ganguly and a team of six passionate science education leaders — all life sciences students at U of T — develop specialized scientific programming on mental, physical, oral health and nutrition. She co-founded S.E.E.D.S in January 2012 with Applonia Cornolius.

“As a piano teacher during my second and third year at U of T, I met children who hated school, were misbehaving and were disengaged. I also noticed many of them had unhealthy eating habits, among other health issues. I knew I had to do something,” said Cornolius, who is no longer with the program, but believes it’s a win-win for university students looking for extra-curricular activities and give back to the community.

“Through mentorship and volunteer programs, S.E.E.D.S. fosters leadership opportunities for post-secondary students and provides real world experience — crucial practical skills for university grads.”

On Thursday March 20, S.E.E.D.S. will host their second annual gala, Growing a Better Toronto with the Seeds of Today, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at Hart House’s Debates Room. All are welcome to attend and learn more about this youth-invested grassroots initiative.

For Ganguly, who grew up in India and Tanzania, the social determinants of health — including education, social status and income — are important issues she hopes to address as a public health professional.

"Toronto is a diverse and resilient city whose future depends on today’s youth. By supporting and educating kids, we are empowering them and generating enthusiasm around healthy lifestyles, science education and, hopefully, preventing chronic disease.”

(Learn more about S.E.E.D.S.)

Nicole Bodnar is a writer with the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.