The Toronto District School Board’s decision in favour of the long awaited alternative high school with an Africentric core program is cause for celebration among those who have worked with determination for some 30 years for this initiative. This decision builds on the breakthrough elementary level Africentric Alternative School.
Scores of parents, educators and so many others who are sincerely concerned about the high failure rate of Black students in the local education system have held on steadfastly to see this through. There is now a renewed sense of hope that, however tiny this initiative, another meaningful step has been taken in the right direction for the sake of the future of our students.
Of some 30,000 students of African heritage attending Toronto public schools, 40 per cent fail the curriculum or drop out annually; along with Aboriginal students, the highest failure rate compared to 25 per cent overall.
After a highly charged public meeting in March held at the west end Oakwood Collegiate, then considered a possible site for the Africentric alternative high school, a decision regarding the school’s fate had been in question.
What is encouraging is that, while the first initiative, the elementary alternative school, was voted in with a slim 11-9 margin of approval, this high school received a greater number of votes in favour at 14-6. This suggests that the Board sees more clearly the merits of enhancing the program with an alternative high school, especially after the initial success of the elementary alternative school. Students at the Africentric alternative elementary school are scoring at a higher level on standardized tests than the provincial average.
Yet, while those who support an alternative high school with an Africentric core focus celebrate this goal, too many who are against it are still peddling the propaganda that it is a form of segregation.
The success of the elementary school has proven what supporters have been saying for years: that for some of our students who would otherwise spiral into scholastic failure in the regular school system, there is a need for a school program that reinforces self-regard and high expectations in a culture-positive learning environment.
Those who, for questionable reasons, paint their concern for failing Black students with worries about how they will cope in the wider – read White – world continue pushing the hot button of segregation.
Again, these schools are not ‘Black only’. They are alternative schools. The alternative they offer is a TDSB curriculum using an Africentric core value system. Any parents who want their child to receive an education with that core as the basis for that child’s learning environment is welcome to seek enrolment at the school. These are public schools.
The elementary school shares the site with Sheppard Public School, in much the same way the more than 30 other alternative schools in the TDSB system do. There is no wall separating the students at recess, for example, so the extent to which this segregation lie keeps being perpetuated is despicable.
How disingenuous to fret about how Black youth will cope in the real world if they don’t have exposure to the broad diversity of society. One does not have to search too far to locate schools in this city where there is not a single Black child, yet there doesn’t seem to be any worry that those children are being scarred by their lack of exposure to diversity. Of course, students at such schools are not also poor and failing, by society’s standards.
That raises another falsehood: that students attending the elementary school are mainly from middle-class families. The TDSB’s Learning Opportunities Index shows that is not the case. Most of the students at the alternative elementary school are from families with relatively low income and education levels, factors that the TDSB determines would otherwise leave such students at relatively high risk of failure or dropping out further down the road.
Today, these young people have a better chance through education for success in this society. What we need now is to continue to broaden those opportunities for success. It is what every parent wants for their child.
And what every child needs and deserves.