Africentric Alternative School on the rise
July 12, 2018
Whenever Michelle Hughes asked her daughter’s teacher how she was doing, the response was always ‘she is very cute and everything is OK’.
Tired of the same lame reply, the Schulich School of Business graduate admissions assistant at York University asked Samantha Hughes – who was in Grade Two at the time -- to bring home her math and English books.
To Hughes’ consternation, not much of her child’s work in her math book was checked off and there was a glaring spelling and grammatical error in the English book she thought the teacher missed.
“In a sentence, my daughter wrote, ‘The loins (instead of lions) need grasses’, and it was marked ‘great job’,” recalled Hughes. “When I told Samantha that wasn’t right, she said the teacher said it was. At that moment, I knew it was time to remove my child from that public school because she wasn’t getting the best education she deserved.”
In 2012, she enrolled her child in Grade Three at Canada’s first Africentric Alternative School that was launched nine years ago.
In its first full term, the school’s academic results were higher than the provincial standards.
As a nurturing, safe and warm space where all students can learn and excel while seeing themselves being positively reflected motivated Hughes to also enroll her two sons.
“As a parent, you have to be involved in your child’s learning and liaise with teachers,” she said. “Even though I have a lot on my plate, I have to do those things. However, I didn’t want to deal with the racism side as well.
“…The Africentric school is a family and the principal and teachers are all approachable. The teachers have high expectations for the students which is crucial and students are allowed to make mistakes which is also a huge thing for me. In other schools, Black students are suspended or even expelled when they make a mistake. There is no second chance for them to learn and grow from that error.”
Samantha Hughes graduated with honours and is at the Etobicoke School of the Arts while her brothers, Christopher and Johan, started at the junior kindergarten level at the Africentric School and are excelling.
“It is important to have my sons in a learning environment where I don’t have to worry about them being criminalized or labelled was another factor for me to get them in this school,” Hughes added.
In February 2017, Luther Brown was appointed principal of the school that has an enrolment of nearly 110 from kindergarten to Grade Eight.
Of the seven graduating students this year, four are going to International Baccalaureate (IB) programs.
Improving students’ academic and social progress was at the top of his list when he joined the school.
“There is a perception out there that this is an institution for students with behavioural challenges,” he said. “That not the case. We are looking to develop leaders. We are looking for those young people who are trying to figure out how best I become me.”
Students visiting places of historical significance in Canada is also a priority for Brown.
Recently, Grades One to Three students visited Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site which is an open-air museum in southwestern Ontario while Grades Four to Eight students toured nearby Dresden where Blacks were refused service in the town’s restaurants, stores and barber shops.
On his return from World War II, a passionate Hugh Burnett challenged the status quo in his hometown, forming the National Unity Association (NUA) that led to the passage of Ontario’s Fair Employment Practices Act in 1951 and the Fair Accommodation Practices Act three years later.
Burnett and the NUA also laid the groundwork for subsequent human rights legislation in the province and across Canada. A carpenter by profession, the human rights pioneer paid for his beliefs and bravery, dying penniless in 1991 at the age of 73.
An Ontario Heritage Trust bilingual plaque paying tribute to Burnett and the NUA was unveiled at Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site eight years ago.
“We need to be looking at signposts that are left for us by our ancestors in this country,” said Brown, a former CHRY 105.5 FM radio producer/host for 27 years up until 2015. “This is part of our history that our young people need to know.”
Curtis Ennis, the Africentric school superintendent for the last two years, said Brown has had a huge impact on the school.
“Bringing in Luther has made a difference,” he noted. “He has brought stability at the institution that refocused on academics while maintaining cultural pieces. We are in a good place and moving forward. The students are achieving and doing well academically.”
The school recently held its annual fundraising awards gala, organized by the Parents Teachers Council, at the Jamaican Canadian Association centre.
This year’s theme was ‘Developing Leaders’.
In his keynote speech, retired provincial court judge Greg Regis laid out some of the characteristics that make effective leaders.
“A leader must have integrity, people must be able to trust them and their words should be binding,” he said. “A leader must also be a good listener. An ignorant leader becomes a despot. A leader must be able to anticipate, they must be courageous and they must be authentic.”
Regis congratulated the graduating students and encouraged them to aim high.
“As you enter high school, make a conscious effort to learn everything that you can,” he added. Read, read, read and read again, Follow your curiosity and take every field trip that you can, Visit museums and art galleries. Listen to all types of music, including jazz and classical. Keep your options open. Dream big dreams and aim much higher than you think you can reach. Visualize yourself as the Prime Minister or the Chief Justice of Canada. Picture yourself as the city’s chief medical officer, the Canadian Armed Forces head, the United Nations secretary general, the next principal of this school or the person who develops the company that knocks out Facebook.”