Provincial award supports Brock researcher’s look at health inequities in schools

Ontario school boards are required to have a plan that ensures all students receive an equitable, inclusive education, but schools often lack the time and evidence needed to create and implement such plans, says Karen Patte.

The Brock Associate Professor of Health Sciences aims to deepen understanding of youth health inequities in the secondary school system with the support of the Government of Ontario’s Early Researcher Award (ERA).

Patte, Canada Research Chair in Child Health Equity and Inclusion, co-leads the ongoing national COMPASS study that collects a wide range of health and well-being data from students and secondary schools in Ontario, Alberta, Quebec, British Columbia and Prince Edward Island every year. She also works with COMPASS youth engagement committees to co-design and mobilize research about youth physical and mental health.

“Schools do the best they can with the resources available, but we found disparities in students’ experiences of school environments such as whether they were bullied and felt like they belonged, which have important long-term health impacts,” she says.

There are also concerns about inequitable distribution of resources across schools, Patte says, which can limit their ability to provide health promoting programs and facilities where needed most.

Patte says the ERA will help her and her team to “better understand how to create school environments where students feel safe and welcome and where their physical and mental health can be maximized.”

The award will allow the researchers to expand and evaluate efforts to include youth in the research process and in school health decision-making.

“Not only do youth hold rights to education, health and freedom from violence, but they also have a right to have a voice in decisions that impact them,” Patte says.

The funding will also support a team of graduate students as future researchers in youth health and equity.

“I’ve been fortunate to have some great mentors in my training and their one request was to ‘pay it forward,’” says Patte. “Graduate students bring new and diverse insights to the work; I learn at least as much from them as they do from me.”

Patte’s ERA-funded research project was one of 406 across Ontario that Ontario Minister of Colleges and Universities Jill Dunlop announced on March 18. The ERA program gives funding to new researchers working at publicly funded Ontario research institutions to build a research team.

“Dr. Patte’s work on addressing inequities that hold some youth back from reaching their full educational potential continues to be regionally and nationally recognized,” says Michelle McGinn, Brock’s Acting Vice-President, Research.

“What is most exciting about this award is that it enhances Dr. Patte’s ability to support the next generation of scholars who will advance this line of research under her guidance and mentorship,” she says.

The ERA is the latest honour to be bestowed on Patte. In addition to the recent announcement of her Canada Research Chair, Patte was also the recipient of Brock University’s 2022 Award for Early Career Research and Creative Activity.

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