If Anthony Brown’s intention was to attract the attention of his arts teacher with his funny antics, he succeeded.
“He was with friends goofing off and I took him aside and told him he was behaving like a court jester and not a prince,” recalled Genevieve Anthony, the DAREarts director of urban programs and lead teacher. “His eyes lit up and he told me he is a prince. I said yes and one day I will watch you become a king. But today, you are a prince. At that moment, he pulled himself together and I could see him visualising his potential.
“His behaviour completely changed since that day. He understood that he was there as a leader and not as an entertainer.”
DAREarts is a non-profit organization that stands for Discipline, Action, Responsibility and Excellence and its five-year program is geared towards middle school students residing in designated high priority neighbourhoods.
Brown, who entered the program three years ago, was a recipient of a DAREarts Leadership Award which was presented last week to teenagers for turning their lives around and becoming exemplary leaders in their schools and communities.
“Anthony is an exceptional young man,” said the teacher. “The higher the bar is raised, the higher he’s willing to jump and take risks. Though he has faced a number of challenges, he’s not afraid to be the best version of himself.”
The Grade 10 Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts student has overcome learning challenges and his grades have improved dramatically since he entered the arts program.
“I want teenagers to understand that their circumstance does not determine their future and they should always dream big,” said Anthony who aspires to be physics professor. “This program has taught me that I could be anything I want to be. I have a natural curiosity for trying to understand the world around me, the way things move and how they interact with the environment. I also want to create a book with illustrations, hence my interest in visual arts.”
Grade Nine student, Zakaria Hassen, was proud to be a winner of this year’s youth Leadership Award.
“It tells me I have made progress in the three years I am in the program and that the arts are much more than music,” said Hassen who attends Weston Collegiate Institute. “I want to be a neurosurgeon and I know I will be able to apply some of the values I have learned in this program in my professional career.”
The son of Somali parents, Hassen has a passion for soccer.
“Zak came to us with the understanding that he is an athlete,” Anthony said. “He had no idea why he was a leader. As he started to make connections between discipline in the artistic world and discipline as an athlete, it started to click for him that the leader he was on the court and on the field and the leader he needed to be in every aspect of life should be the same. Once he grasped that, he started to change and he has run with it so much to the point where he’s learning a new language (Dutch).”
Since its establishment 16 years ago, DAREarts programs have empowered nearly 140,000 Canadian youth with self-confidence, courage and leadership skills using the arts. Former school teacher, Marilyn Field, conceived the program idea.
“As a teacher in Scarborough, I realized that when I arrived at school around 7:30 each morning to do the school play or musical, the students were already there and excited to be involved in the arts programs,” said Field, who is also a trained classical pianist. “That made me think there is something to this and the arts have extra power that can excite kids and stimulate their interest. With that in mind, I decided to leave school and start something that would benefit young people.”
Toronto District School Board (TDSB) director Dr. Chris Spence was presented with the DAREarts Cultural Award for promoting arts education in spite of budget cuts.
“Chris is an ideal recipient of this award,” said Field. “His values in life and education parallel those of our organization as they both empower youth to ignite change in their lives and communities.”
Spence attended Simon Fraser University on a football scholarship and graduated with a Criminology degree on the same day that he made his Canadian Football League (CFL) debut for the British Columbia Lions which drafted the running back with the 26th pick in the 1985 draft.
When injury cut short his football career three years later, Spence began working with young people in group homes and detention treatment centres. These experiences led him to begin a flourishing career as an educator, first as a teacher in middle school classrooms in the city’s designated priority neighbourhoods and then as a principal.
With the support and participation of teachers, he transformed Lawrence Heights Middle School, which had a reputation for violence and low academic results, to an educational institution which – a decade ago – scored above the city and provincial averages in reading, writing and math.
When Spence arrived at Lawrence Heights as vice-principal in 1997, regular fights broke out in the corridors, bulletin boards were plastered with graffiti and many students came to school without stationery. Soon after becoming principal a year later, he allowed students to decorate the school halls with multicultural murals.
Last November, the TDSB entered into a five-year agreement with the Art Gallery of Ontario that allows students and educators to visit the Weston Family Learning Centre at the renowned gallery for hands-on art experience.
“I am a big believer in the arts,” said Spence who developed a $1.7 million “Vision of Hope” strategic direction that involves a series of inventive programs and projects focused on raising student achievement, enhancing parent and community engagement and achieving financial stability.
“I see it in my own children and in my career going back to Lawrence Heights and what it did for students in terms of their disposition to learning. I also say that the most important thing we can do is believe in our students so they can believe in themselves. A program like this does exactly that. It provides kids with opportunities and experience and you know when you do that, you are levelling the playing field and you are giving kids a chance to achieve and to really pursue something they are passionate about. I think that’s the business we are in.”