Graduation season sparks pride — and hope — for Black community [private school bursaries]: James

Good initiative to improve the opportunities for Black Canadian kids and improve the diversity of private schools, even if numbers are small. Of particular note are the efforts made to prepare them for the private school [elite] experience, :

It’s that time of year when graduates leave a lump in our throats and hope in our hearts.

The awkward child who found purpose and now clutches a diploma. The son who struggled mightily just to stay in school, before connecting with a teacher who cared beyond duty and made all the difference. The brilliance and awesome wonder of youth on a mission.

It could be found in the hundreds walking from Westview and C.W. Jefferys to York University in the annual statement that education is the path out of the social housing traps.

Or the 40 or so who will graduate from Crawford Adventist Academy, an independent church school where 38 of them will go on to tertiary education. Not just once. Every year.

To prepare for the annual season of uplift, I attended an unusual recruitment drive at North York Civic Centre last week. Hundreds of parents and students of African and Caribbean descent were kicking the tires on a schooling opportunity that’s as rare and unlikely as, well, as a Black kid at Upper Canada College (UCC).

Oh, that’s not so rare? Not anymore? So I discovered.

Since 2007, 120 Afro-Caribbean students have received scholarships to attend the elite private schools known to churn out prime ministers and business moguls. Most of the 120 have been to UCC. But the tables displaying recruitment literature last week boasted about the rarefied life at Branksome Hall, Havergal College, St. Clement’s, Crescent School, Sterling Hall, Royal St. George’s College, Appleby College and others, 20 in all.

These elite private schools brag about low teacher-student ratio, high academic standards and expectations, deep and worldwide alumni network, a balanced and varied school life and the making of solid men and women out of unsteady boys and girls.

And here they were reaching out to Black students — the very students we fret about every time we peruse reports on dropout rates and lagging academic achievement in our province’s public schools.

The parents and their children in tow are a mix of wonder, anticipation, anxiety and resolve. These are families willing to take a path less travelled, one that begins far from their familiar neighbourhood and class and friends and promises to land the voyager in unimaginable places.

The pioneers file reports of launching out into a world where few look like them, sound like them, have their experiences. “I told him he’ll likely be the poorest kid in the school, but to hold your head up,” one parent tells the gathered mass looking for tips on what life is like at the schools of the privileged, where a $30,000 tuition tab is not unusual.

They go in timid and tentative. By November their chests are out. They are leaders, articulate, sure-footed, integrated and part of the UCC brotherhood or the sisterhood at Havergal.

“A new world has opened to them. They can shine,” says Anne White, who helps prepare the students for the unexpected world of Canada’s elite private schools.

Just after the Year of the Gun (2005) the Ontario government funded the African-Canadian Christian Network (ACCN) to administer grants to various church-based organizations committed to community “ministry.”

I know about this because then-premier Dalton McGuinty announced the funding at my church, where Amon Beckles was shot and killed on the front steps while attending a funeral of his slain friend. The idea was that churches might be able to reach “at risk” youths that government institutions were unable to contact.

One funding success is the creation of outreach to African and Caribbean families to prepare them for entrance exams and the steps to apply for scholarships to attend elite schools.

“We got an invitation from (former) principal Jim Powers of UCC,” recalls Cheryl Lewis, executive director of ACCN. “He’d looked around and saw the tapestry of his school did not reflect the city. So, he offered two boardings (residential places) for boys.”

The ACCN was a fledgling organization. The government funding allowed it the capacity to reach out to several churches and establish the educational initiative. Word got out. Parents and students took up the offer to prepare the applicants for life at the elite schools.

Just outside the council chamber at North York city hall I’m surrounded by male and female Black students, in crested uniform, waxing about their experiences. The head spins.

Source: Graduation season sparks pride — and hope — for Black community: James | Toronto Star

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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