Saturday, April 26, 2008

I support Canada's first Africentric alternative school

News today that the Toronto Public School Board has found a location for its controversial Africentric alternative school. It will be a school within a school – not a free-standing building – and is being proposed for a wing of sprawling Sheppard Public School near the northwest corner of Sheppard Avenue West and Keele Street in Toronto.

There was a lot of knee-jerk opposition to this when it was first proposed. I do admit, I wasn't overly crazy about the idea at first. I chose to wait until plans were more fully fleshed out before commenting on it here.

But comments like this from school trustee James Pasternak, who represents the area where the new school will be located, are reassuring: "There's this misconception of two solitudes running down the halls, but that's incorrect – these kids (in the regular school and the Africentric wing) would be together in the schoolyard, together in the playground, together in the lunchroom," said Pasternak.

The new school won't only be open to black students; students of all races will be welcome. The school will also be open to all qualified staff, although it is "expected to become a magnet for black educators wishing to serve as role models, and those with a background in Africentric curriculum."

According to the Toronto Star Q&A at the bottom of today's article, "Students will follow the Ontario curriculum, but lessons will focus where possible on contributions made by Africans and black Canadians, and issues relevant to the African-Canadians' experience."

I think this is a positive step. Will it have much of an impact on the 40% dropout rate for black students in Toronto? It's too soon to tell, but it certainly won't make that number worse. If it saves even a handful of youth from falling out of the system, then it's a good investment, I say.

In many ways, the new school will be similar to the longstanding Triangle Program, which provides an alternative school setting for queer students in Toronto. The aim of the Triangle program has never been to replace existing mainstream schools, but to provide queer students with a LGBT-positive space, free from bullying and harassment so they can learn in peace. The ultimate goal of the Triangle Program has been to arm their students with stronger self-esteem so that they can eventually return to the mainstream school system.

The purpose of alternative schools like the Africentric school or the Triangle Program is to help marginalized students whose needs aren't being met by the mainstream system. The alternate programs are integrated within the existing public school system, showing that public system's ability to meet the needs of students under one large umbrella.

These programs are entirely different from separate religious schools, where the goal is not to assist students back into the mainstream, but to keep them "safely" separated from that mainstream for their entire educational experience (because, implicitly, there's something inherently wrong or immoral with that mainstream, some believe.)

Instead of having separate religious school boards for various faiths across Ontario (as some, including PC Leader John Tory, have proposed), we could and should set up equivalent religious programs within the existing public system (where numbers warrant) to ensure students of particular faiths see their values reflected in what they learn. I would have no problem with this at all, as long as all such programs were integrated within one public system and all students and staff would be eligible to participate.

1 comment:

Queers United said...

this idea is interesting but the segregational aspect scares me