It’s been called the “most controversial school in Canada”, but starting next week the Toronto District School Board’s Africentric Alternative School will enter its second year of operation for students from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 5.
Share has strongly supported the establishment of this or similar schools, so what was controversial to us was the fervor with which so many opposed the prospect of a school to provide Black children with a formal education that carries an Afrocentric component.
Most of the children attending this alternative elementary school likely have little idea of the battle that was fought and won by proponents of the school to make it possible for them to have this culturally enriched setting in which to begin these very important foundation years of their education.
As with any new endeavour the school has had its growing pains while it puts its curriculum into action. Part of the challenge has actually also been its success. The school enjoyed a surge of enrollment in its first year from an initial 80 students to 150, which eventually left some students on a waiting list for the coming academic year. And, as the school grows, it will eventually extend up to Grade 8 as its current students progress through its program.
Earlier this year, TDSB Director Dr. Christopher Spence, a strong supporter of the school, met the news of the growing enrollment with promises to increase material support for the school where needed. In fact, the school has been bolstered by strong support from those who understand the importance of having it as an option in this city. For one, in the future, graduating students will also be eligible for an education scholarship that has been provided through a fund that was set up in trust earlier this year by philanthropist and educator, Danny Pivnick.
Now that the school has completed its inaugural year, perhaps the legions of naysayers have come to their senses and accepted that the sky has not fallen as a result of widening the scope of the Toronto education system. Perhaps they now understand that this alternative school is a promising effort by the TDSB to address the larger issue of the relatively low success rate of African Canadian students in this city.
We have for too long seen the potential of our Black students thwarted by a systemic undertow of low expectations and an environment that all but guaranteed disengagement by the students who most need particular attention to ensure academic success.
What we continue to ask and expect of our education institutions is, as Dr. Spence has said, that teachers pay attention to teaching the student, as well as teaching the lesson. We are assured that at the Africentric Alternative School the mandate is not just to provide students with a strong background in culturally based teaching but that teachers understand the importance of teaching the student.
That is of particular importance in light of a recently published University of Toronto study by Associate Professor of Psychology, Michael Inzlicht, that confirmed the lasting and debilitating after effects of negative stereotyping. We can identify among our children the “lingering adverse impacts such as aggression, over-eating, inability to focus, lack of self-control or difficulty making rational decisions” identified by Inzlicht’s study. Added to these, our children also fall victim to racism and racial discrimination in our society which could be blamed, at least in part, for the higher than average failure and dropout rates.
One small alternative school will not solve the predicament that far too many African Canadian students face, but it is a step in the right direction. What this community needs now is to build on that first step.
To ensure continuing success, similar Africentric alternative schools must be established at other points in the city, starting with Scarborough. But let’s ensure that, as was the first case, it does not take another three-decade campaign.