School builds futures for adult students

A half hour before students start lining up for their lunch at the City Adult Learning Centre, O’Shane Campbell starts grilling chicken. He flips them, then coats them with his favourite Caribbean spicy jerk sauce.

While the chicken cooks, Campbell prepares dessert for his fellow students. He gets an adrenaline rush when he turns on the valve and allows gas to go through the flex-hoses and into the burner. Co-op teacher Anna Manuel is supervising.

“Don’t forget. Do not be monochromatic. We don’t want our food or desserts to be dull. We want some colour,” Manuel said.

Manuel then samples what her students have made.

“Chicken is good. Mmm. Rice is good,” Campbell’s teacher said. “Add some salt to the pasta before you turn it off. Veggies are good. I think we’re ready guys. Good job.”

Moments before students come flooding into the cafeteria, Campbell jokes around with his colleagues, just to release the tension he felt while preparing lunch.

For Campbell, today’s lunch service is like something out of an orchestra; months training culminating in a flawless performance.

City Adult Learning Centre (CALC), a public high school located at Broadview and Danforth, is just like every other school in the GTA. It is funded by the Ministry of Education. It offers the same courses as other high schools and is under the Toronto district school board’s umbrella. But it provides its students with more than a public high school curriculum. It gives them second chances.

CALC offers a variety of credit courses for adult students wishing to obtain their Ontario Secondary School Diploma, so they can gain entry to higher education or job-related training … tuition-free.

The job-related training offers co-op programs in which students can learn a trade and hone their skills for the real world. The cooking program offers 200 hours of work in two months (one quad).

Campbell, along with other 20 students, attends this program every morning under the supervision of CALC’s principal, Richard Bilkszto.

Bilkszto runs the cooking program with the help of student counsellors and teachers. While Campbell and his colleagues prepare lunch, Bilkszto samples their creations and often promotes them along the school’s hallways.

“It’s really rewarding to see students with different backgrounds and challenges, and help them fulfill their dreams,” Bilkszto said. “I was thrilled to be able to come here.”

The school faculty members face many challenges, Bilkszto said, while trying to disseminate their knowledge and set their students on the right path.

“The biggest challenge is to ensure that they have prepared programming in place, to serve the needs of a diverse and a wide range group of students with different needs and different backgrounds,” the principal said.

Just east of the school are businesses that can benefit from the school’s grads, in particular, CALC’s 2,700 students rely on the businesses in East York, to employ them as workers. Angelo Velonis is a Danforth Business Improvement Area member who runs Alexandros Restaurant.

“We benefit from them and they benefit from us,” Velonis said.

BIA-affiliated business owners on the Danforth have employed CALC cooking co-op graduates.

Nick Kostis, owner of Megas Restaurant, has provided a number of CALC students with co-op training and, after graduation, employment.

“Three years ago I hired a student for a seven-week co-op; now he is my head chef,” Kostis said. “This kid didn’t even know how to cut a tomato; now every customer wants a Greek salad from his hands.”

Programs such as these allow students to make good use of their CALC training and experience, Nick Kostis added. For O’Shane Campbell, CALC has provided a new future.

“When you’re in CALC, whatever you dream of learning about how to cook, now comes to reality,” Campbell said.

After his graduation in January 2016, O’Shane Campbell plans to travel abroad and experience cuisines from around the world.