School board asked to put a face to new Africentric school

A former vocational school instructor wants the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) to reveal to the city’s African-Canadian community whom the new Africentric schools will serve.

“It’s interesting on one hand, because they are talking about getting more involvement with the parents and community,” said Hank Clark, who attended an information meeting about the school, as a member of the community and not a parent. “But I’m more concerned about the numbers… Exactly who gets to apply and what will the selection process be?”

TDSB held the first of three meetings designed to inform the public about the school set to open in Sept. 2009. The meeting took place on Nov. 25 at Winston Churchill Collegiate Institute in Scarborough. About 30 people attended. TDSB executive officer for student and community equity, Lloyd Mckell, explained that the new school’s mandate hoped to emphasize cultural sensitivity.

“This isn’t a 10-month extension of black history month,” Mckell said. “The school will be primarily designed to incorporate the Africentric experience into the curriculum.”

Mckell alluded to the African saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” to describe the vision of the Africentric experience. He emphasized the importance of incorporating the community and parents into the students’ learning experience.

“We’re hoping to build a sense of community with adults who these children know care about them and their experiences,” he said.

Donna Harrow, one of the parents who spearheaded the proposal with the TDSB, said this idea of the Africentric experience comes from her own background.

“This isn’t new,” Harrow said. “African-Canadians have learned like this in the (Caribbean) islands and it worked… We just want to bring this style of teaching to our kids and grandkids.”

Despite assurances from the TDSB, some of those in attendance had questions. The main confusion grew from whether the model of the school stemmed from an African cultural style of teaching, or one tailored specifically to black youth.

A TDSB brochure handed out at the meeting stated the school would accept applications for enrolment for students between junior kindergarten and grade 5, regardless of race.

Angela Wilson, a parent who was part of the initial proposal, remains actively involved in ensuring the school opens next year as planned. She emphasized the importance of looking past skin colour when thinking about the future.

“It’s important to look beyond race and think about education,” she said. “If we want a Barack Obama to happen in Canada, we have to first nurture our youth.”

Wilson and Harrow affirmed that greater parental and community participation in the students’ education will garner the results the TDSB wants. Despite these assurances, some attendees remained sceptical.

“You know, it’s great to see these ideas of change in the education system coming around,” Clark said. “Right now I feel as though they may not have the answers we’re looking for, themselves, and those things need to be worked out well before these information meetings take place.”

There are two more meetings scheduled before the year is over – one in the city’s west-end and one at the designated school site in North York.