What would any reasonable person who cares about the future of this city say to the setting up of a publicly funded school for “students who have experienced difficulty while attending a traditional secondary school”?
Given how vital formal education is in today’s knowledge- and information-based economy, the answer should be that such a proposal is not only sensible but necessary.
In fact, Toronto’s Board of Education, now the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), came to the same conclusion some 40 years ago when it decided to begin providing alternative education environments to ensure that every child could have access to the kind of education setting that would enable optimal learning.
Education matters. That is why, just after healthcare, spending on education tops the provincial budget at close to $2.5 billion annually.
Yet, when it comes to the education needs of Black students, particularly the four out of 10 who do not complete high school, there is public and official resistance.
Any reasonable person learning of the achievements of the students at the TDSB’s Africentric Alternative School would be cheering its positive results, the culmination of a decades-long battle to get the TDSB to begin to address the education crisis facing some 40 per cent of the Black student population in Toronto.
In its first year, 81 per cent of the students at the school tested at or above the provincial standards in math compared to 71 per cent of students city- and province-wide. Look at what an alternative environment can do.
Enrollment at the alternative elementary school is now at 188 in classes up to grade seven, as well as three full-day kindergarten classes. There is also a waiting list.
However, the next step in the support of these students – establishing an alternative secondary school – is proving to be just as tumultuous as the road to setting up the elementary school.
Earlier this year, the clumsy TDSB communication on plans to place an Africentric alternative high school within Oakwood Collegiate was met with anger by parents and students at Oakwood who heard of the proposal mainly through media reports. Parents also received an automated telephone message that directed them to the school’s website. Complaints ranged from the lack of consultation to the proposal to locate the ‘school within a school’ at Oakwood C.I.
This week, the TDSB met again to look at furthering the project by taking a decision on location. The TDSB move comes after a deferment earlier this month at a board meeting which was also attended by supporters.
This high school is a logical extension of the first initiative and will give hope to the students who are desperate for a place within the education system that can enable them to have some equity in their formal education. Getting potential dropouts to feel engaged is what this is about.
To quote advocates and educators Dr. George Dei and Dr. Arlo Kempf: African values, including “community, responsibility and complex identity consciousness, are used as instructional tools for educational delivery in an Africentric education, which centres learners on their own culture, experience, histories and complex identities, as a starting base to engage broader knowledge critically.” That’s why this matters.
While the decision on the alternative high school is being processed, we still await the adoption across the school board of the best practices coming out of the teaching experiences at the Africentric Alternative School.
As positive as it has been, one small school lodged in the northwest corner of the city would not be the cure-all for the high dropout rate experienced by Black students. A similar alternative elementary school needs to be located in Scarborough as well.
And we now know what it will take to achieve that.