Canada’s first Africentric Alternative School will have a new principal when the 2012-2013 term starts in September.
Satisfied she has done enough to establish the school’s presence, founding principal, Thando Hyman-Aman, has accepted a head position at Alexander Stirling Public School in the Malvern community. The decision was made after consultation with the Toronto District School Board.
“This was a building year and we have completed that stage,” said Hyman-Aman who was a principal at General Brock Public School in Scarborough before going to the Africentric School. “I took a look at where things are at and said O.K, it’s that time.
“As a principal with the Toronto District School Board, you can ask for a transfer and that’s where the consultation with the board took place. It’s time to move on to a secondary phase. It’s time for a change and the baton needs to be passed on at a time when we are moving from the building phase to the maintenance stage.
“Like everything else, when change comes, it does so with some high emotions and needs. I have said to the parent community and I still maintain that I will be part of an Africentric community because the school was born out of the sweat and tears of many advocates in the Black community, many of whom I have worked with. I have told the students that no matter where I am and where they are, we need to continue to be connected because I believe that down the road, I will be reading about them, hearing about them and learning from their parents how well they are doing.
“While I might not be physically there with them, I will always be in spirit.”
Hyman-Aman thanked her staff for the commitment they made in helping translate her vision into actual practice to meet the community’s expectations.
“We did not have a blueprint for this form of teaching,” she said. “The teachers were on a learning curve because they did not have any professional development around Africentricity, Africentric education and culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy. In the course of three years, they have been able to put into place some of those frameworks. They are still developing and growing into understanding where the equity and social justice lens fall into place.
“At the same time, a few of them were grounded in some community-based initiatives, so that gave them a greater insight into how to work in an Africentric School setting and what the needs of the parent community and children would be.”
Under Hyman-Aman’s exemplary leadership, the school enjoyed considerable success in a remarkably short period. With an enrolment of 85 on opening day in September 2009 (more than double the expected 40 students), the school now has nearly 200 students and there is a waiting list. In addition, the school’s academic results have scored higher than provincial and TDSB averages in math, writing and reading.
Hyman-Aman has been instrumental in developing several community partnerships that will benefit the school. They include collaborations with Black Board International that provides culturally-related educational software and services and the Afri-Can Food Basket that will assist students with gardening opportunities and also encourage them to embrace a healthy eating lifestyle.
Despite the successes, Thando-Hyman endured several challenges and trying moments.
Opposed to the school curriculum which does not match their vision, a small group of parents have disrupted the smooth running of the institution over the past three years. Just eight days after the opening, they presented the principal with a list of 21 grievances. Late last year, Hyman-Aman was vindicated of accusations levelled against her by a parent. She was away from the job on a one-month leave of absence while the board investigated the matter.
Hyman-Aman said the hurdles that the Africentric School faces are often consistent with the problems that most new entities encounter.
“Knowing that we had a dearth of parents who have had a longstanding history of mistrust and distrust of a public education system and were lining up to start a new course for their children, we knew that was an added dimension to really build trust and develop relationships,” she said. “When you have a community that has been advocating for decades for something that would speak for them and also address the long-term academic success for their children, we knew expectations were going to be high and not everyone would see eye-to-eye with what we were doing.
“At the end of the day, every parent wants their child to be successful in whatever realm they choose. When you look at the history of African people, you will see we have surmounted many challenges. We want to make absolutely sure that our children are given every opportunity to take their rightful place in society. That’s what the Africentric School is all about.”
In spite of the few distractions, Hyman-Aman said she had a great relationship with the parent body and student council.
“I believe that, as a pillar for any student’s success, parents are the first teachers of their children,” she said. “They have insights that they can share with us as a staff and we can build, develop and grown together. Many of the positive things that came out of the school were initiated by parents. It was a parent who suggested we should have an end-of-school-year gala to celebrate and highlight our accomplishments.”
Some $10,000 was raised from the 2010 inaugural gala and the funds were used to address student needs. Subsequent galas have raised nearly $8,000.
While parents are their children’s first and foremost teachers, Hyman-Aman said she discovered that some parents’ literacy skills are poor. The close to 75 adults who attended a parent summit in May 2011 were asked to make a list of their expectations for their children.
“Many of them told me they would take home the forms we provided and bring them back later and that was when I realized that they were products of the 40 per cent drop out rate we have been talking about,” Hyman-Aman said. “They could not read and write. That was telling and it showed me that the parents have academic needs just like their children.”
Trustees voted 11-9 in favour of the Africentric School that’s become a beacon of hope for parents seeking an African-centred education for their children. Hyman-Aman shared a telling story which illustrates the need for the alternative school.
“There was this well-grounded and bright boy who was enrolled at the start of the new school after he told his mother he did not want to be Black,” she said. “The prior educational experience he was exposed to obviously led him to that belief which is a parent’s worst nightmare. We tested him and it was determined that he was gifted, but his self-esteem was very low. The boy told me he wanted to be a surgeon and I asked him if he had ever heard of Dr. Ben Carson (one of the world’s top neurosurgeons). When he said no, I gave him a copy of Carson’s book and the video documentary detailing his life. Last year, the boy met Carson while he was in Toronto. He’s now very active in all of the school’s activities and very proud of his heritage.”
Hyman-Aman said she was honoured to be chosen the first principal.
“The school stands as a beacon of light and hope for many of our children,” she said. “When you look at the academic success, social and emotional wellness, the cultural identity and focus of the school and high parental engagement, we have achieved a lot in a very short space of time.”
Very few would disagree.
BY RON FANFAIR