Akiko Ohta

Book Buddies Evaluation RA

November 02, 2022 | By: Akiko Ohta | Edited by: Tiffany Chen

Hello, my name is Akiko Ohta. I’m a Ph.D. student at the Faculty of Education. Before starting the doctoral program at SFU, I lived, studied, and worked in different parts of the world. I am passionate about making this world where anyone can make their lives following their wishes and desires and working toward becoming whom they want to become. In Morocco and Bangladesh, I worked for rural community development with local people, especially women. In Lebanon, I worked with the local government to build a support system for refugee children from Syria to study at school.

Bringing those international experiences, I luckily had a chance to work for refugees and immigrants here in Canada. As part of my Ph.D. dissertation, I led a government-funded program evaluation for 2.5 years. The program was to empower refugee mothers with pre-schoolers through the family education program and settlement support. After completing the program evaluation, I was ready and hoped to apply the experience to other projects. Thanks to the support of the Faculty of Education Research Hub and my doctoral supervisor, Dr. Masahiro Minami, I was able to obtain the evaluation opportunity for the Book Buddies (BB) program with the SFU Surrey – TD Community Engagement CentreBook Buddies is an after-school literacy program for children in grades 2-4 who could benefit from additional support with reading in English. Most of the BB participants came from refugee and immigrant families whose parents spoke English as an additional language. The program was developed in partnership with the SFU Surrey – TD CEC, Surrey School District Community Schools Partnership Department, and the READ Surrey/White Rock Society.

As the target population of the previous program that I evaluated was refugee mothers with preschoolers, it helped me to understand the target population of the BB program, children in grades 2-4 and their families with refugee/immigrant backgrounds, to some extent, such as their needs and challenges in raising children in a new country. I also felt I could personally relate to the population. I am an immigrant to Canada and a mother raising a child. My daughter was a preschooler when I was involved in the previous program. She is now in a primary school, just like the BB participants. I am a newcomer parent and am passionate about learning from the feedback of those children and their families and improving their program experience. It was a perfect opportunity for me to build on my program evaluation experience as well.

Although the title of my BB position was Research “Assistant,” this position was to lead the program evaluation. I was responsible for creating an evaluation proposal with the methodology, conducting data collection, analyzing the data, and writing an evaluation report. I especially wanted to make this evaluation as community-led as possible where BB participants (children) and volunteer mentors (SFU students) can participate in the evaluation process. They are the core actors in the BB program, and I believe it is essential to include them in the evaluation activities.

All the volunteer mentors were undergraduate students and had no interview experience. To prepare them for the evaluation activity with children, I trained them to be “community researchers.” The volunteer mentors are the ones who met the children every week during the program, and by the time of the evaluation, they had built rapport with the BB participants. For the evaluation activity, the children were paired with volunteer mentors, who worked with them the least in the sessions, to give the children space to talk about positive and negative experiences in the program.

Also, to maximize the voice of the children, I applied an arts-based method, “draw and tell,” in the evaluation activity. They were first asked to draw the moments they liked the most during the program to help them reflect on their experience and make it easier for them to respond to the evaluation questions.

Both training volunteers to be “community researchers” and using the “draw and tell” method for children in the evaluation process were something I tried for the first time this time. As I want to continue working with communities to conduct community-based research/evaluation, it was a valuable opportunity for me to try community-participatory methods and learn from the experience. I appreciate Rachel, the Associate Director from the SFU Surrey - TD CEC, for supporting me in developing the evaluation plan and allowing me to try these methods for the BB evaluation.

The SFU Surrey - TD CEC has various paid and voluntary opportunities for SFU students. It is a well-established and -supported system for students to get involved in real-life projects and see if it is something they want to pursue as their lifework or career. It is also an excellent opportunity to contribute to the community with the skills and knowledge they already have and further develop them. I think such an experience can be a significant step to be closer to becoming whom they want to become!

To join get involved with the SFU Surrey - TD CEC: https://www.sfu.ca/cec/get-involved.html