Rare TDSB honour for young cancer victim

By RON FANFAIR

Rarely does the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) name school property after individuals, neither living nor dead.

However, in the case of Westview Centennial Secondary School student Alwyn Barry, who made quite an impact in his 18 years before his life was cut short by colon cancer in December 2007, an exception is being made. The school will honour his memory with today’s (Thursday) opening of The Alwyn Barry Centre for Health Care Studies.

“I have been with the board for nearly 20 years and this is the first time that I actually know of a room being named after someone,” said principal Paul Edwards, who was assigned to the school this semester. “During my 10 years as vice-principal at Central Tech, there was one request to name one of the buildings dedicated to just Arts after a retired teacher and that was denied. Though I did not know the young man, it’s obvious that he was special.

“What is happening today is very significant and should not be taken lightly. It’s also noteworthy because it’s linked to the Humber Regional Hospital which is just across the street and there will be co-op opportunities for our students. This will really ground the relationship between the school and the hospital.”

The Alwyn Barry Centre houses the school’s health care program that provides students at various grade levels with opportunities to explore health care focused field trips, job twinning, laboratory activities and science classes.

Co-op education placement students can earn credits for their diploma while working in hospitals, dental offices and schools, participate in the Skills Canada competition and earn Medical Terminology, First Aid and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) certificates.

Former Westview vice-principal Icilda Elliston says Barry deserves the recognition.

“In spite of his illness, Alwyn was extremely positive and optimistic,” said Elliston who is the principal at Emery Collegiate Institute. “He always held out hope and tried to inspire others even though he was suffering. He never dwelled on his illness and it was such a pleasure to have him at Westview.”

Guyanese-born Barry was diagnosed with cancer in 2005 after complaining of sharp abdominal pain. He underwent surgery and chemotherapy, but the cancer returned early in 2007.

During his illness, TDSB social worker Egerton Blackwood encouraged Barry to take part in a project – “Shoot With This” was aimed at empowering young people through video — that allowed him to document his illness. Barry took a camera to doctor appointments and medical tests to record his battle with colon cancer with the hope of changing people’s attitudes about the Jane & Finch neighbourhood where he lived.

An ill Barry attended the screening of his seven-minute film, Alwyn, two months before he died.

Barry’s sister, Onika Medina, said her family is still struggling to cope with his death.

“The last two years have been quite emotional for me and other family members,” she said. “We thought everyone else had moved on and left us stuck in grief until we were informed of this unique honour. My brother touched many lives and it’s good to know that this did not go unnoticed.”

Medina along with her brother Quacy and their parents Forbes and Michelle Barry, will join Randy Palermo, who was the principal at Westview when Barry was a student, and school board officials at this afternoon’s naming ceremony.

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