Africentric School heralds a new beginning

By RON FANFAIR

For the boys, it will be black trousers and long sleeve white shirts while the girls will be dressed in white blouses and black skirts or pants and all students will wear vests with traditional African designs.

Parents approved the standardized dress for their children attending the new Africentric alternative school that opens next Tuesday.

“Local designers made their submissions to the parents at the end of June and they in turn made the selection,” said Toronto District School Board (TDSB) administrator Lloyd McKell. “Most of the parents had requested uniforms and they have been granted their wish.”

A total of 85 students will begin classes at the school that will initially accommodate children from junior kindergarten to Grade Five.

“I think that’s a good start to the program and it gives it a full round of classes,” said McKell, the TDSB’s Student and Community Equity executive officer. “We have no doubt that the number will increase once the school is in operation…A lot of work has been done on the curriculum and the teachers have all participated in training this summer. We are quite ready to start classes and get this thing up and running.”

McKell has been at the forefront of the struggle to establish Canada’s first Africentric public school.

In his 32-year association with the TDSB, formerly the Toronto Board of Education, he has helped to develop strategies and programs 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.

There was a public outcry in 1992 when it emerged in the mainstream media that McKell supported the Africentric school concept.

“This has been a long and tough journey to get to this point,” he said. “When I look back at the initial discussions around the idea of the Africentric school where we faced much opposition from many quarters about whether this school was a good thing for kids or not and having to keep explaining, clarifying and interpreting what it is as well as what it’s not and trying to convince people that this is fully consistent with the goals of the TDSB, we have come a long way.

“We just wanted an opportunity to implement the school so that we could demonstrate that this is an educationally sound concept that would have benefits for students. It has been a long and difficult road and I feel a sense of accomplishment because, throughout all of this dialogue, discussion and debate, many members of the African Canadian community have been solidly behind the idea of supporting the Board in its decision.”

McKell acknowledged there will be challenges for the students and parents who will be responsible for transporting their children to the facility. The TDSB does not provide transportation for students attending its alternative schools.

“The students who come to this school will vary in terms of their needs and readiness to take on the challenges of learning,” he said. “We will have to deal with that like any other school and we will have to be patient in achieving the goals we set for the students.

“Parents, on the other hand will have to make adjustments to get their children to the school. I foresee that we may have some attendance problems because of that, but we will try to support parents as best as we can to make it as easy as possible for them to send their kids to school.”

McKell said there will be a grand opening to mark the first day of the new school.

“We want to keep it as normal as possible for the kids,” said McKell who did not want to divulge much details of the program. “But we have no doubt that the students and parents will see this as an important historic opportunity and they will look forward to something special on the first morning. We will try to create something special around that and present an opening that’s welcoming to the students.”

Principal Thando Hyman-Aman heads the school with support staff Heather Mark, Nadia Hohn, Marina Hodge, Agatha Paul, Veronica Sullivan and Leah Newbold.

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