Aware that a high percentage of teen moms fail to complete high school, Daniellah Navaroli was determined not to fall into that category.
The Heydon Park Secondary School graduate now has more than an Ontario Secondary School diploma to show for her resolve and commitment.
She was the recipient of a Lincoln Alexander Aspirational Award presented at the inaugural African Heritage Educators Network (AHEN) Black Students Recognition Awards recently.
“Finishing high school was always a priority,” said Navaroli, the mother of a two-year-old son. “Achieving that goal and getting this recognition really means a lot to me. Now it’s on to the next chapter of my life which is to become a guidance counsellor.”
School principal, Donna Drummond, is proud of Navaroli’s accomplishment.
“The things she has had to overcome to get to where she is today makes my head swell with pride,” said Drummond, who heads the only single sex public high school in the city.
Navaroli was one of two students from her school to receive awards named after some of the city’s leaders and trailblazers – past and present.
Grade Nine student, Fanta Berete, was the recipient of a Jean Augustine Academic Award. Augustine was the first Black woman elected to the Parliament of Canada, is the province’s first Fairness Commissioner.
“She’s very focused and a great role model for her peers,” said Drummond, who is also an AHEN co-chair.
Awards were also presented in the names of Enid Lee for school and community distinction, Herb Carnegie for athletic achievements, Lincoln Alexander for aspirational endeavours and Lawrence Hill for excellence in the arts.
Lee is an anti-racism education leader and a visiting scholar with Teaching for Change in Washington, D.C.; Carnegie – who died in March 2012 at age 92 – was denied the opportunity to play in the National Hockey League because of his skin colour; Alexander – who passed away seven months ago, was Canada’s first Black Member of Parliament, federal minister and Ontario’s first Black Lieutenant Governor and Hill is an award-winning novelist.
“Canada has a long history of distinguished achievements and contributions by people of African heritage and you are well on your way to embracing that fine tradition,” Hill told the students. “I would encourage all of you to have the courage to find and pursue your passions. Discover, define and shape your own interests, in and out of school, and invest the thousands of hours of effort necessary to turn them into your achievements and successes.”
A total of 100 elementary and high school students were recognized in the five categories.
Retired TDSB administrator, Lloyd McKell, praised AHEN for acknowledging students’ commitment to excellence in education, community service, the arts and sports.
“Too often, we hear about the failures and low achievements of Black students,” said McKell, who helped to develop myriad initiatives to involve parents from diverse communities in the school system and assisted with the development of the Race Relations, the International Languages and the Black Cultural Heritage Advisory Committees, which were established to advise the board on programs and strategies to meet the needs of racial and cultural minorities.
“We forget there are students who are really trying hard to succeed in the face of difficult circumstances. When we do have students who demonstrate leadership and are committed to improving themselves academically and otherwise, it’s nice to recognize them because those achievements tend to get overshadowed by some of the negative stuff we hear about. We always need to honour our young people, regardless of the times and changing circumstances.”
For Kipling Collegiate Institute Grade 12 student Cheryl Case, this was her first award.
“That’s why this is a big deal for me and my family,” added the oldest of three children who was accompanied by her proud mother, Keron Case. “This will inspire me even more to go after my dream of becoming an urban planner.”
Vice-principal, Bernard Lee, said Case is destined for greatness.
“Her marks are in the high 80s and she’s doing extremely well,” he said. “I have no doubt she’s going to make a mark in the future.”
Elia Middle School principal, Kwabena Yafeu, nominated Grade Eight students Kerice Bailey, who is the student council chair, and Similoluwa Jayeoba for the Jean Augustine Academic Awards.
“In addition to doing well academically, they have assumed leadership roles at many levels and are ambassadors for our school,” said Yafeu. “They are part of a celebration tonight that goes right to the core of self-esteem by letting our young people know that education is valued in our community and we place a very high premium on it.”
TDSB interim director, Donna Quan, challenged AHEN to make the awards an annual event and she urged students never to settle for mediocrity.
“When we talk about excellence, we also talk about ambition and I see that and feel that in this room,” said Quan. “If you carry that ambition with you, no matter what the struggles are, I know you can overcome them and you will succeed.”
Comprising educators and other professionals along with community members, AHEN aims to address issues that impact students of African descent.
“Our mandate is to empower members, students, parents and communities by strengthening the capacity to navigate the educational system successfully,” said the organization’s co-chair, Natasha Burford.