While claiming she understood the sentiments of the supporters of Canada’s first Africentric Alternative School who feel the public school system curriculum does not include much of their history, contributions to society and learning styles, former public school principal Zanana Akande was unwilling to support the concept.
That was nearly five years ago.
In its first full term in 2009-10, the school’s academic results were higher than the provincial standards and there have been an extremely high level of parental involvement and engagement in the past three years.
At the school’s third annual gala last Friday night, Akande admitted she was wrong to believe the school would not work and be successful.
“I am humbled to be asked to be the keynote speaker because the creation of this school would not have been my first choice,” said the first Black woman elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario and the first Black woman to serve as a cabinet minister in Canada. “I said so publicly and loudly. Confession is good for the soul and I wouldn’t want you to think that I would pretend otherwise. I had been part of a large group who had worked for a long, long time to bring about total and equal involvement in education in terms of good teaching and inclusiveness and I was one of those who was afraid that if we splintered off into an Africentric school, that in fact it would lessen the resolve of those who were working towards an inclusive curriculum.
“I was wrong. We can do both things and we can do them well. I think it’s important and humbling for me to come here tonight and to tell you that ever since you began, you have been in fact demonstrating the best that education can be and I have been, as many others have, applauding you…There were people who recognized that their children could be brought to a level where they in fact would be able to excel and there were people who recognized that even if their children were excelling, it was not because they were getting the best education…Those children excelled even in other schools, but in this school, you can see from their performance and from the way they behave and their attitude that they in fact are totally involved and their parents have come together to support them in a way that was different in other situations.
“This school has become a model for how things should be done and it has become a model for how parents must be included. It’s also a model for the fact that children were taught well when included in the curriculum and when included to be their best.”
Akande said she has received glowing reports from the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and the Ontario Science Centre about Africentric School students who were at the learning centres for educational tours.
“At the ROM, I was told the students’ behaviour was exemplary, their manners excellent and they listened and understood everything they were taught,” she said. “I was told basically the same thing when I went to the Science Centre for a meeting and the staff there said the students asked the most intelligent questions.”
The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) approved a recommendation in May 2008 to set up the Africentric School as a junior kindergarten to Grade Five option. The school opened in September 2009 with an enrolment of 85 students. It currently has 180 students and will add Grade Eight in the next semester.
Former TDSB executive officer for student and community equity, Lloyd McKell, who had been advocating for an Africentric alternative school for a long time, was presented with a Nia Award at the annual gala.
“It’s with a sense of pride that I accept this award because I was part of a community effort that has extended over several decades that articulated an aspiration for such a school,” said McKell who provided key support to the board’s Africentric Summer Institute in 2004 that was a pilot designed to offer an exciting learning opportunity for Black Grades 1-5 students in the Jane-Finch area. “I am honoured to have made a contribution to something that is so important to the community.”
McKell said he’s saddened that Thando Hyman-Aman, the school’s first principal, is leaving at the end of this term. He strongly supported her appointment and admired her demonstrated commitment to educational and community leadership, students success and teaching practice, innovative and relevant curriculum development, equity and diversity.
“The principal is a fine leader and she showed a lot of courage in accepting the job in the first place because this was something that really had no precedent in a public school board,” he said. “She took on something that others shied away from and did an amazing job because what we have seen in three years is students who have been competitive in terms of their academic success where many people felt the school would not have been able to achieve the levels of success they have had. This is a credit to the principal and the leadership she has shown.
“I wish she would have stayed for a few more years to consolidate the school, but in my opinion it has a solid foundation to over-ride whatever difficulties it encounters during the transition of principals. Leadership is one of the pillars of schools’ success along with excellence in teaching and my hope is that the position is taken by someone who is committed to the concept of Africentric education and also excellence for children. Unless the student achieves success, the concept would not have achieved its full potential.”
Hyman-Aman said she was honoured to be the founding principal of an academic institution that exceeded expectations.
“Today, not only have our students demonstrated excellence, but they have at times surpassed the confining limitations placed upon them,” she said. “This school has demonstrated that given a nurturing, safe and warm space, all students can learn. With the caring and guiding hands of our staff and community, our students can see themselves positively reflected in their world and have a space to see where their dreams can take them.”
By RON FANFAIR