Project encourages creativity among high schoolers



It took former MuchMusic VJ and urban music promoter Tony “Master T” Young and his wife Paula Johnson almost two years to showcase a unique project they conceived that would musically and technologically engage high school students.

In the presence of teachers, their peers, parents and other supporters, the students recently performed songs about school life that they wrote and unveiled a four-track CD and DVD chronicling the project that began last March.

“We submitted this project to the Toronto District School Board about two years ago,” said Johnson. “Harbord was the first school to pick it up and it has been quite an experience for the young people involved because many of them are now able to create music. They chose the topics and we created four original songs.

“The entire process was videotaped by their peers with the assistance of Tony while I did the editing. The kids really got into the project, especially when the conversation revolved around racism because that is something that touches a chord.”

The school’s Popular Music and Society teacher Greg Smith played an integral part in the two-month process.

“The kids have done an amazing job and I am really proud of them and also of Tony and Paula,” said Smith who has been at the school for four years.

He started the Popular Music and Society program last year with two sessions that will be expanded to four next year.

“It’s an interdisciplinary course which means we have taken expectations from different courses and brought them together into one class,” said Smith. “We teach the kids skills like silk screening, video making and music and web page production. Everything is student directed and researched. They pick their own projects and proceed with my approval.”

Grade 12 graduate Cecilia Thompson was one of the participants in the music project. She transferred to Harbord after West Toronto Collegiate closed last fall.

“I have learned that I can be creative and be whatever I want to be,” said Thompson who performed two songs. “I am going to York University next semester to study Criminology, but I might switch to Social Sciences so that I can take music courses and that’s because of this two-month project we have just completed. I am now more confident and creative.”

Opened in 1892, Harbord is one of the city’s oldest schools. Its alumni include former Ontario premier Bob Rae, CBS news anchor Morley Safer and insulin co-discoverer Charles Best.

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