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Environmentally-Focused Alternative School Opens in the West End

Posted by Brady Yauch / March 19, 2009

AlexanderMuir-GladstoneWhat happens when you mix environmentalism, social justice and community activism with elementary education? You get the Grove Community School (GCS). After two years of preparation, the proposed alternative public elementary school on Gladstone (just north of Queen) has been approved by the Toronto District School Board. The K-6 school is set to open its doors in September of 2009 at the Alexander Muir/Gladstone Avenue Public School.

According to the GCS mission, the school seeks to "support the diverse developmental and educational needs of students in a learning environment emphasizing environmentalism, social justice, and community activism." As part of this process, the school will establish an open and collaborative community where students, teachers, parents and community members will help determine its guiding values, principals and curriculum.

"Parents want to be involved," Kim Fry, one of the parents and activists behind the founding of the school, told me. "They want to participate in creating their children's curriculum." By creating the school, the parents are taking a more active approach in how their children are educated. They want to create a stronger link between the values they promote at home, and what their kids are taught at school.

While still adhering to the Ontario Ministry of Education requirements, the founders of GCS are seeking to promote and stimulate the curiosity, imagination and social, ecological and personal responsibility of its students. One of the biggest components of this model of education is creating a more active and experiential form of knowledge. By doing so, the school's creators want to instil a sense of community in the students.

According to the GCS founders, the school will be the first of its kind in Canada that incorporates ecological sustainability and community activism into its curriculum. As part of this curriculum, students will be taught "ecological literacy" through concrete experiences and community involvement.

Alternative schools
are not without critics. Many parents have expressed concern that alternative schools create an uneven educational system within the city. They point out that a number of alternative schools (particularly art-centric ones) require students to audition in order to be enrolled. This, they say, caters to children from high income families, as they're more likely to benefit from having taken private lessons.

And we won't even touch on the merits/drawbacks of the Afri-centric school...

Critics aside, "three new elementary schools appeared recently," Kim told me. She added that, "clearly there's a lot of interest." She then quickly pointed out that,"we had to do a lottery for the kindergarten acceptance. We are overwhelmed by the excitement from parents. "

One potential drawback that I think Torontonians should consider when addressing the subject of alternative schools is how they're going to benefit or harm the city's educational infrastructure as a whole. Shouldn't we be trying to incorporate some of these 'alternative' teaching methods in all public schools rather than implementing them in pockets across the city? And, are we moving towards an education system that's fragmented and specialized, catering to particular needs for niche groups of parents and students?

While I applaud the founders of GCS for pursuing their vision and creating a school that promotes social, civic and ecological responsibility; I believe the effects alternative schools have on our public school system should continued to be questioned and examined. But in the meantime, I'll raise a glass to the parents taking an active role in their child's education.

Discussion

22 Comments

ds / March 19, 2009 at 04:20 pm
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At my public school, during the 1970s, we were taught environmentalism, social justice, and community activism while maintaining an open-concept classroom model. Parents were encouraged to contribute and did, but not to the point of interfering with the curriculum. When did all of this change? Has it even changed at all?

I'm certainly not involved with the Toronto public school board at all, so I don't know but this 'alternative model' sounds like a crock of self-entitled hogwash to me.

daniel. / March 19, 2009 at 04:34 pm
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I think the environment is important and as a student of the 70's grade school system was also taught about it, things like solar energy....one thing i do wish they'd bring back to the curriculum,manners...kids dont have them......as a result they're bullish, murderous and belligerant.
o_O / March 19, 2009 at 04:55 pm
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I agree with Daniel. Murder was invented in the 80s and children who went to school between the 80s and today are the only ones who murder. It must mean they have no manners. Shame on them.
Steve replying to a comment from ds / March 19, 2009 at 04:58 pm
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Sounds like a crock to me too.

To keep things balanced, I suppose the TDSB is also planning a Young Capitalist Alernative School for the children of parents who think the school system is already too liberal.
Greg Smith / March 19, 2009 at 05:10 pm
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"Shouldn't we be trying to incorporate some of these 'alternative' teaching methods in all public schools rather than implementing them in pockets across the city?"

Maybe, but if so, would it not be prudent to run a pilot project at one school before rolling it out on a larger scale?

"are we moving towards an education system that's fragmented and specialized, catering to particular needs for niche groups of parents and students?"

Not likely. Adding a few more alternative schools doesn't mean the system as a whole is "moving" anywhere. It's just adding variety. If the schools work, fine, if not, fine.

Students (and to a much lesser extent, parents) who do have special needs should be catered to... the operative word being <em>needs</em>. In this case, I don't see a need; however, that doesn't mean it isn't a cool idea. But I wouldn't necessarily lump in "themed" alternative schools like this one with those aimed at addressing groups that can demonstrate the necessity (or, failing that, a strong claim of positive benefit) of an alternative curriculum or whatever else it is that differentiates the alternative school from "standard" TDSB schools.
daniel. replying to a comment from o_O / March 19, 2009 at 05:39 pm
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watch the news
daniel. / March 19, 2009 at 05:43 pm
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fear of authority....listening, and general decency was the rule of most....today kids have too much,computers to help with studying, phones, ipods....spoiled and distracted....not to mention the prevalence of rap gang culture that has infiltrated mainstream media, influencing early teen behaviour....mentors and values need to be re-taught, nevermind Al Gore, he doesnt live in the midst of all this
somechick / March 19, 2009 at 06:03 pm
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Just what we need more liberal schools. Isn't the TDSB slack enough? Everybody's a winner, nobody is a failure, nobody gets a bad mark, no need to even try and be smart, becuase you aren't even alowed to give students 100% anymore.

I agree withthe above posts, that more money and time should be spent on teaching kids ettiquette and manners. I mean boys are still wearing baseball caps in class?!?!? What happened to old fashioned respect?
daniel. replying to a comment from somechick / March 19, 2009 at 06:07 pm
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Exactly somechick.....too much time is spent coddling the student and not disciplining him or her.Is it true that a student can't fail because that sends the wrong message?....if so, what crackpot psychologist working for the TDSB dreamed that one up?
PublicSkoolDadd / March 19, 2009 at 11:00 pm
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If the GCS keeps the carob and spelt crowd out of our hair at the real school, I'm all for it.
Those kids will have to face the real world someday though.
Z replying to a comment from daniel. / March 20, 2009 at 09:22 am
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i'm supposing you're not familiar with sarcasm, are you?
Corina / March 20, 2009 at 10:08 am
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Having worked at a private school, I can tell you that there's pretty stringent standards in place to ensure that any alternative/enriched educational program not only adhere to the curriculum, but has to surpass it to really gain any merit.

However, I think further segregating children based social policy is foolish.. and sets an obscene precedent, just as the afro-centric school would have.

Let's please run pilot projects within the framework of the public school system, and if anything reinforce these obviously valuable enviro-concepts in the traditional curriculum streams.
Parkdalian / March 20, 2009 at 10:14 am
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Not that i'm a hippy or anything but i find this school idea great! Too many times students get "lost" in regular schools and can't find their way into ineteresting careers(*even when they finish university) Nothing beats social and ecological awareness from an early age. Imagine if we had these schools way back(*and enforced French language more!) how much more valuable citizens to society we'd be. Food for thought.
Bradley Wentworth / March 20, 2009 at 10:38 am
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This is a great idea; one of Toronto's strengths is its diversity, let's leverage it. Rational voices have pointed out that if we had more women, more ethnic diversity, and more young people on Wall St and Bay St, the economic crisis would not have happened.

I see motivation as the biggest obstacle to education. If you let people - kids, parents, teachers - try something new, they'll put their heart and soul into it. One standardized provincial curriculum? That's stifling.

And let's not forget there are schools in this city catering to a whole swathe of niches - if you're willing to ante up the tuition fees. Let people who can't afford $10 000 / year have access to something different!
Christopher / March 20, 2009 at 11:56 am
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I don't really see anything wrong with this, in all honesty, and I wish something like this had been provided for when I was going to school.
Yeah, the more basic elements were provided in the 70's, but not to the extent that it could have.
In this day of cost efficiency, it's easier to have specific programs provided within a smaller environment, rather than in a large scale program where it will be wittled down, or hotly contested as even being useful.
That same tactic certainly doesn't seem to apply to Phys-Ed, with all it's booster and incentives, and how useful is football in later life.
I was never a gym kid, and the topics I really would have loved to have learned in school just could not be provided, so I was stymied at all turns, and eventually was forced to move on.
Something like this could be perfect for kids who have more specific goals for their future in mind.
Someone said these students will eventually have to live in the real world. Maybe they already are, and it is we who need to adjust
The Wrong Cause / March 20, 2009 at 02:03 pm
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If the TDSB has extra money to spend, why aren't education tax dollars being spent to help education children with learning disabilities like autism?!?!?!? Today, 1 in 150 individuals is diagnosed with autism, making it more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined. It occurs in all racial, ethnic, and social groups and is four times more likely to strike boys than girls. President Barack Obama unveiled a Fiscal Year 2010 budget proposal that includes $211 million for the Combating Autism Act.
Greg Smith replying to a comment from The Wrong Cause / March 20, 2009 at 02:15 pm
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TDSB spends a great deal of "education tax dollars" on special education programs for students with autism and other conditions. Setting aside your odd comparisons -- from a single school board in Ontario to the entire United States -- consider that your criticism ("If the TDSB has extra money to spend...") would apply to each and every element of the school board's budget. How much of TDSB's budget be set aside for autism? On what evidentiary basis should autism be made the top priority (aside from your preferences and perhaps the legitimate needs of someone I presume close to you)? How many programs do you think are "extra" that should be canceled to achieve your unquantified aims? If you can demonstrate that funding for autism-related programs is too low, that's fine, but simply naysaying every other program because it doesn't match your individual preferences is unhelpful.

Also, at least <a href="http://www.diabetes.ca/about-diabetes/what/prevalence/";>according to the <em>Canadian</em> Diabetes Association</a>, there will be 3 million Canadians with diabetes by 2010 and that "a North American child born in 2000 stands a one in three chance of being diagnosed with diabetes in his or her lifetime". So I'm not sure what evidence you've based your other"[autism is] more common than..." claims.
Greg Smith replying to a comment from The Wrong Cause / March 20, 2009 at 02:19 pm
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Ahh, I see that The Wrong Cause may have meant that "autism [in children]" is "more common than pediatric cancer, [pediatric] diabetes, and [pediatric] AIDS", though I'm still not sure why that's relevant here. Is the allegation that TDSB spends too little on students with autism compared to with diabetes or AIDS? I don't think that could possibly be true.

It actually just looks like some talking points cut-and-pasted from elsewhere.
Dan / March 21, 2009 at 01:38 pm
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I think this is a great idea and to the authors point, it all needs to start somewhere. If this model can be tested in pockets across the city and it is successful it will only add credibility to the task of incorporating similar elements province or even nation wide.

I'm glad you didnt dive into the Afri-Centric schools, as these in my opinion are an entirely different approach to niche education systems. In my opinion race should not be an identifier of cultural studies taken. We have an advantage here in Canada with our multi culturalism, we need a way to educate everyone on these ways of life to properly prepare and invest in our leaders for tomorrow.
Kid / March 21, 2009 at 02:23 pm
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This is certainly a step in the right direction in my eyes. As someone who grew up in the post-modern educational system in a working-class family this choice is certainly needed. Not every kid out there is going to adhere to the current curriculum and adopt it.

"Someone said these students will eventually have to live in the real world. Maybe they already are, and it is we who need to adjust", well said Christopher. The kids of today are obviously nothing like the kids of the 70's. Yes we have cell phones and ipods and our 'strange' music. We ARE distracted because there just might not be anything to stimulate us enough. Those of us living in massive urban centres are bombarded with so much stimuli it's ridiculous! The system just might have to change to meet our growing needs. The post-modern city has solidified the idea of the individual and role specialization compared to 30-40 years ago. You can't expect us to fit into an educational model whose base was formed during a time when North America's cultural values and attitudes were still shifting from rural community closeness to urban individualism. The times have changed, A LOT.
Corina replying to a comment from Kid / March 21, 2009 at 05:52 pm
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The times haven't changed so much that we should raise kids to expect special treatment; yes we should strive for strategic individual education plans for every student's style and needs, but hyper-specialized schools are only going to serve a select slice of society. Instead, let's train our public system to cater to the needs of individuals. It's similar to the argument against privatized healthcare... we don't want to raise elitists.
Lisa replying to a comment from Bradley Wentworth / June 29, 2011 at 10:51 pm
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Totally agree. Empty TDSB schools are being filled with private schools. People are looking for programming that suits their child and are willing to pay for it if need be. Keep those kids in the public school system with options.

Alternative schools take kids who may feel marginalized in the regular stream and gives them the opportunity to be themselves and shine. I'll tell you now you'll likely know my son's name in 10 years because he got what he needed out of the Alternative School System. He was always an A student even in the regular stream but he didn't "FIT IN". Now he's more confident and his talents are blossoming.

His feelings of inferiority were left behind in elementary school, his middle school years have given him a whole new outlook. I thank god the TDSB has such schools!!

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