September 18, 2012
Africentric high school has six students
By Moira MacDonald, QMI Agency
TORONTO - When it was first announced in the spring of 2011, it felt like the whole city was talking about it.
News that the Toronto District School Board was creating an Africentric high school, potentially at Oakwood Collegiate, led to raucous school meetings and fired-up talk radio lines.
Things quieted down at the school board after that. Director Chris Spence withdrew the proposal and went back to the drawing board. The school concept finally got approval last November. It opened this month at Scarborough’s Winston Churchill Collegiate as the Africentric Leonard Braithwaite Program, named after Ontario’s first black MPP.
Teaching staff? Three, as of last Friday. Then Tuesday board staff took the decision to cut that down to one. But they were unable to produce a projected budget for the program’s first year, saying $75,000 had been spent so far, not including salaries.
“We haven’t given up on the program,” said Spence Tuesday night. But, “when you’ve got enrolment down across the board you can’t defend three teachers for six students.” The program was originally conceived to have up to 60 Grade 9 students with plans to add another grade each year. Six of the students’ eight courses would be destreamed and taught through “an Africentric lens.” Officials, “expect the program will grow over time,” Shari Schwartz-Maltz, a board spokesman said last Friday.
Spence admits the board “got started fairly late in terms of marketing the program.” Officials “missed a lot of the cut-offs,” where Grade 8 students who might be interested in the program would be choosing their high schools and specialized programs.
“In spite of the efforts over the summer to get the word out we’re in a position where (there’s) only six kids,” Spence told me.
Nevertheless, even one of the trustees who voted against the concept said now that it’s going, it has to be given time.
“I think we have to give it a chance and see if kids are interested or not,” said trustee Gerri Gershon.
But it looks to me as though the board, again, miscalculated and started something before it was ready, which doesn’t help a program that started out with an uphill PR battle against critics who have variously called the Africentric schooling idea segregationist or a form of ethnic favouritism. The Africentric Alternative elementary school faced similar criticism when first announced in 2007. But it at least had a healthy first-year enrolment at its 2009 opening because there was sufficient lead time to promote it and develop the program.
Not so here.
One of those trying to get the word out is Liban Abokor, a coordinator with Youth-LEAPS, a non-profit community program that promotes alternative education help for black and disadvantaged youth. Abokor believes enrolment numbers will be up by January. It also remains to be seen how many of the Africentric’s elementary school’s first graduating class (there are seven) will carry on to the high school program next year.
“I do see a swell of interest. I know people that are now asking (about it) who weren’t aware the program is running,” says Abokor, whose agency is piloting after-school tutoring nearby for all Churchill students. “We know the program is needed.” If others agree, it’s time to get busy. The only two good reasons to open alternative programs are academic need and student demand. In this case we still have a too high black dropout rate — at last count 40% — so there is a demonstrated need to do something different. But there’s a long way to go yet to demonstrate demand.
And without both of those things, there’s no reason to do it.