New school of Africentric teaching: a plus or a minus?

Kofi Sankofa, a supporter, spoke at one of the TDSB community consultation meetings

Kofi Sankofa, a supporter, spoke at one of the TDSB
community meetings that focused on a debate about black-
focused schools. Next to him are Gerry Connelly, Director of
Education (left) and Christopher Usih, Superintendent (right).
Photo Credit: Ashleigh Russell

According to Stats Can, the drop-out rate among black students is increasing.

Should Toronto open black-focused schools?

This, among many other questions, was addressed at the Toronto District School Board’s (TDSB) community consultation meetings. Everyone was welcome to participate in the lively discussions concerning opening schools tailored for black students as early as next fall.

The majority of people seemed to support the idea because they feel the current system is “failing our students.”

“Going to a school as a minority, I felt teachers labeled me and other black kids as a bunch of kids who are bound to fail,” said Kalisha, who prefers not to have her last name disclosed. Kalisha is a university student.

“I’ve had teachers tell me I can’t go to university but I’ve never seen them say that to my White classmates,” said an anonymous high school student to the audience.

Still, others were against the idea of a black-focused school.

“Rather than financing an entire school, consider financing projects within existing schools,” said Gabriela Flores, a teacher.

Some argued the problem lies beyond the classroom.

“How do we get parents to play a more active role?” said Wilston Allen, an attendee.

“Parental involvement is paramount,” said Elaire Young-Sterling, a mother who strongly believes her strong relationship with her son was a crucial factor in his academic success.

Activists, parents, teachers, students, motivational speakers, and those who were simply interested attended the meetings. The first was held Nov. 8 at North Albion Collegiate on Kipling Avenue. Northview Heights Secondary School, located on Finch Avenue West, held the second meeting on Nov 12.

Participants sat in groups and were asked to answer two questions:

  1. Do you support a pilot Africentric alternative school in the TDSB?
  2. What should the TDSB consider in establishing such a school?

Everybody was given about 45 minutes to talk amongst themselves and then a representative from each table spoke on behalf of the group.

“One thing I want to make very clear is this is not a ’for blacks only’ school. I’d like to remove the word ’black’ and instead use ’africentric,’ ” said Angela Wilson who helped organize the meetings. “Rather than to say ’black-focused schools’É it’s a school meant for Africentric teaching.”

In other words, these schools are not solely for children of African or Caribbean descent. However, the teachings will be.

According to the TDSB, such a school is “open to all students, which uses the sources of knowledge and experiences of peoples of African descent as an integral feature of the teaching and learning environment.”

Wilson’s comment is very important because some raised the issue of whether establishing an Africentric Alternative school is a form of segregating our students.

“No it certainly is not segregation,” said an anonymous supporter. “Segregation was forced upon us but this is a choice. We have a choice to enrol our children in these schools and our children have a choice to attend. I highly disagree with the use of the word ’segregation’ in this discussion.

“Did anybody think funding faith-based schools was segregation? Or the mere fact they exist? Why wasn’t this term used during that whole discussion?”

The TDSB is expecting to follow up on the issue early next year.

A group of attendees share their views with one another.
Photo Credit: Ashleigh Russell