By RON FANFAIR
Students in Peel can now learn English Creole through a ground-breaking program offered by the region’s district school board.
The International Languages program was officially launched last Saturday at Brampton’s Calderstone Middle School which is the first academic institution in the region to run the pilot project.
Through in-class instruction and fun-based activities, including story-telling, drama, art, music and dance, the English Creole program will provide students with opportunities to develop language skills such as listening, speaking, reading and writing.
The program will also seek to educate, inspire, motivate and empower students as they engage in the process of self-discovery.
“This is a monumental achievement,” said Jamaican linguistics professor Clive Forrester in the keynote address. “It is a mad idea, but this is the essence of innovation. It might just have to be crazy for it to work.”
Forrester teaches two English Creole courses at York University. Introduction to English Creole is meant for students with no background in the language while the Intermediate course seeks to develop further students’ proficiency in the language as well as provide them with a deeper understanding of how the language works.
“I cannot count how many times there were outbursts of laughter or jaws falling to the floor that I encountered in the first two weeks of the program last year while speaking to Jamaicans I came across at York and in the wider Toronto region,” he said. “My deepest pleasure however came when the laughter gradually changed to a sobering and pensive countenance during the course of the debate which normally concluded with the statement, ‘It’s about time.’
“That first year at York was a learning experience for both myself and my students who would tell me numerous stories about friends wondering how would such a course work and parents wondering exactly what they were paying for their children to do in this course.”
Forrester commended the Peel District Board for acting on the initiative of Superintendent of Education Elizabeth Sinclair-Artwell to implement the program this semester.
“Here we have a dedicated batch of teachers and administrators who decided to take the bold step of becoming the first school district to introduce such a program,” said Forrester who lectured at the University of the West Indies Mona campus. “Here we have a set of proud parents who are not afraid to stand up and acknowledge that this is my heritage. Here we have a community who I am sure is willing to lend support in whatever way they can in fostering the continuation and success of this program.
“Make no mistake, all eyes will be on us. The detractors are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to point out whatever weaknesses exist in this program. But we in the Caribbean are no strangers to struggle and opposition, especially when it has to do with our heritage. So despite the opposition, we are here this evening to move forward. The only question is where we go from here.
“I suspect the next step is approval at the policy level and then as the program continues to develop and expand, we might see the curriculum adopted by more school boards. It’s only a matter of time before we have children from kindergarten all the way up to high school being immersed in a learning environment where their heritage is encouraged rather than suppressed. And when these students leave high school with a renewed pride in their English Creole background, I will be waiting for them at York University.”
Peel District School Board trustee Suzanne Nurse said the introduction of the English Creole program is consistent with the board’s philosophy of providing a unique learning opportunity for students while associate director of instructional support services Judith Nyman said the new program offers an experience that extends beyond the classroom.
Leon Barrett, who along with fellow Calderstone teachers Marcia Allen, Andrea Carnegie and Matthew Pitter, wrote and developed the curriculum, said English Creole will be taught in the context of the Caribbean cultures.
“It will also, among other things, provide opportunities for students to become familiar with people of Caribbean heritage who have made significant contributions to Canada and the world, compare and contrast aspects of Creole Caribbean cultures with those of Canadian cultures, locate geographical areas where the language is spoken and where it originated and develop sensitivity towards and an awareness of people from a variety of cultures,” said Barrett who teaches Social Studies and Language Arts.
The English Creole program is offered on Saturdays during the school year to Grade Four to Eight students.
“This program, for many people, is an element of identity and culture,” said Sinclair-Artwell who is the superintendent responsible for Adult and Continuing Education. “The English Creole program is designed to help students enhance their language skills while embarking on a journey of self-discovery, one that will boost students’ confidence and help them to create a positive self-image.
“This program was created in response to a request by parents. Now the onus is on parents to make sure it’s a success by enrolling their children. It’s my hope that it will become a credit course. The potential is enormous.”
English Creole is one of 24 international language programs offered on Saturdays and Sundays.