Environmentally-Focused Alternative School Opens in the West End

What 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.

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