By PAT WATSON
It’s a pity that naysayers who have been crying down the establishment of a public alternative school with an Afrocentric focus did not find themselves at the Toronto District School Board’s (TDSB) new Africentric Alternative School during the recent open house.
They would have found a positive, supportive atmosphere for children. One in which at least one three-year-old, not yet old enough to be enrolled, began crying as his parents got ready to leave. During the formal presentation inside the gymnasium, which the alternative school shares with Sheppard Public School, there had to be close to 300 adults and children, including parents interested in registering their children, since registration was also taking place.
With standing room only, it was more than just an open house. In fact, it was a milestone occasion in the fight for the present education and future of the children, especially at-risk children, of African heritage who live in this city. And it was an emotion-filled event, for it marked the beginning of a new stage in that fight for their future.
Angela Wilson’s voice shook with passion as she shouted, “Victory! Victory!” Wilson, along with Donna Harrow, gave their energy tirelessly in making the case to the TDSB for the establishment of the alternative school.
The opening of the school, so hard fought for, so long fought for, and so warmly celebrated last Thursday afternoon by a supportive crowd inside the school did not, across the board, receive the same warm welcome beyond its walls. Less than 12 hours after the open house, a report on it by Toronto Star education reporter Louise Brown was receiving a shipload of mainly negative responses.
Some of the same malicious misinformation that clouded the public dialogue on the Black-focused curriculum was repeated, such as describing the school as “Black only.” Others unambiguously expressed the hope that the school fails. And, of course, there was the usual racist dumping on Black people.
Against that kind of pervasive negativity, is it any wonder that a disproportionate number of Black students fare poorly in the formal education system? One mother who brought her lively four-year-old son along with her to check out the school was clearly very interested in getting him enrolled. She had reason for her interest. She described how her two older sons began losing their enthusiasm for school by the time they reached Grade 2 and became more involved with wayward friends.
Her four-year-old, a bright child with much potential, is just the kind of youngster who, without the right kind of supportive environment, could easily become bored and discouraged by the time he reaches Grade 2. He displayed the kind of cheeky self-confidence allowed many children in the mainstream, but which is punished or squashed in Black students, especially Black male students.
Another parent who is pinning his hopes for his daughter’s academic future on the school brought her from Scarborough to enroll her. This points to one logistical issue mentioned by some of the parents interested in having their children attend the school.
Given its location at Sheppard and Keele, the challenge for some parents is in getting their children there. That was the greatest concern for the mother of the four-year-old, and it seemed the deciding factor in whether she would enroll her son or not. It would be a great pity if years from now that need for support in getting him to school became the fork in the road that shifted his life path from one of success to something less favourable.
Now that the Africentric Alternative School is a reality, it is important that it is given the room and the support it needs to remain viable and to be a safe harbour for those children across our diverse Black population who most need it. Failure of this school is not an option.
It should be remembered too that when the TDSB voted in February 2008 in favour of an alternative school with a Black-focused curriculum it also agreed to run pilot projects in three elementary schools to teach subjects from an Afrocentric perspective. All of these gains have come from the ongoing efforts of people committed to securing a better education environment and education outcome for students.
However, until the high school student dropout numbers begin to fall, we cannot rest.
On a note of better-late-than-never…
Day to day warm temperatures are finally here and Environment Canada is forecasting a warmer than normal September. So, with summer having arrived late in August, it should remain sunny and warm until the end of October, shouldn’t it?