Last November, Toronto District School Board (TDSB) trustees cleared the way in a 14-6 vote for elementary students attending Canada’s first Africentric Alternative School and other interested students to be taught in a similar learning environment at the high school level.
When a plan to start the new high school at Oakwood Collegiate Institute was scuttled in early 2011 following an outcry from community residents and students, Winston Churchill Collegiate Institute willingly stepped in as the host school for the Grade Nine program.
The pilot was launched just four months ago after most Grade Eight students had made their high school choice for the fall and the curriculum was completed in mid-August just before the new school year started, giving parents and students little time to digest the courses offered and make informed decisions.
The compulsory courses offered are English, Geography, Maths, Science and French. The elective courses are drama, music, information & communication and business technology.
With just six students registered so far, school principal William Papaconstantinou and superintendent Nadira Persaud said they are not worried about the enrolment. Students of Caucasian, East Asian and Black ancestry make up the number that’s committed to the program.
“The number of six should not be viewed as a negative given the late start,” said Persaud. “I think it’s something to be celebrated that we actually have been able to attract six students. This is something new and we will continue to advertise the program aggressively across the TDSB and outside.”
Papaconstantinou expects students will gravitate to the program once they and their parents embrace the curriculum.
“The dynamics are a lot different for students in secondary school,” he said. “They will have to sit down with their parents and decide where they want to go…The curriculum is an elective piece of writing. In English, we would be looking at resources other than traditional Shakespearean and Eurocentric perspectives. It’s a Canadian-flavoured Africentric lens so when we talk about the program moving forward, it will be on a continual basis of Canadian content hopefully leading that kind of curriculum.
“We are hoping that the curriculum will make it a little more real for some students. We talk every single day about what is good curriculum and how do you make it applicable to the real world. If a person can’t relate to that sometimes, they become disengaged. The more we can draw connections into everyday life, the easier it will become to capture students’ interest. This is a program that is not only important to addressing the opportunity gap, but also to really engaging some kids that would really love something different in a sense that ‘s current.”
The program is named after trailblazer Leonard Braithwaite who passed away last March at age 88. He was instrumental in the revocation of a section of the Ontario Separate Schools act that allowed for racial segregation in public schools when he asked the Legislature to “get rid of the old race law” during his maiden speech at Queen’s Park on February 4, 1964. His advocacy for gender equality also led to the admission of female legislative pages.
In addition, Braithwaite was the first Black elected to a Canadian parliament, the first Black bencher on the powerful Law Society of Canada’s governing council and the first Black to serve on the Etobicoke Board of Education and on the since dissolved municipality’s city council as an alderman.
Papaconstantinou initiated the discussion to name the program after Braithwaite whose son David is a Math teacher at the Scarborough school.
“Giving the program a moniker where it’s going to be honouring someone who has made a tremendous contribution to this society and knowing that his son was here were great selling points,” said Papaconstantinou who spent three years as vice principal at Bendable Business & Technical Institute before being promoted to principal in 2009. “I never met Len, but I knew of his significant achievements.”
Open to all students, registration forms for the program can be found at www.lifeatchurchill.com. Completed forms can be faxed to 416-396-6893 or mailed to the school at 2239 Lawrence Ave. E., Scarborough, On, M1P 2P7. Individuals requesting additional program information can forward their questions by e-mail to email@example.com.
Next September, Winston Churchill will roll out its pre-Advanced Placement (AP) courses in Grades Nine, 10 and 11. The courses are designed for academic students who are interested in taking the AP courses in Grade 12.