January 30, 2008 / 8:46 PM / in 10 years

Toronto set to launch black-focused school

TORONTO (Reuters) - The largest school board in Canada plans to launch a black-focused school to tackle the problem of high dropout rates.

In a vote late on Tuesday, The Toronto District School Board decided to move ahead with the project after months of debate over the value of creating an Afro-centric school. About 12 percent of students in Toronto schools identify themselves as black, according to government data.

“We are committed to providing the resources and supportive learning environments that all our students need,” Gerry Connelly, a director of the TDSB, said in a press conference on Wednesday.

The board said that the black-focused school will help give at-risk students a better chance to succeed at university, college or in the workplace.

The board committed to opening one Afro-centric school by 2009 and will also launch a program to teach the history and culture of black Canadians in three existing high schools.

The Afro-centric school will teach subjects from the black perspective, the board said, rather than from the traditional perspective, which is seen as Euro-centric.

Educator Paul Green, who was present at the vote Tuesday evening, said he was “elated” by the decision.

“It’s been a long time coming. It’s lost on people, but this is 30 years of the same statistics,” he said.

Forty percent of Caribbean-born black students do not graduate from high school in Canada, while 32 percent from East Africa drop out, according to data from the Toronto board.

“If it was the general population of kids failing out at that rate, nobody would accept that,” said Green.

Opponents to the plan have said the school would be a step back towards segregation. The Ontario government has said it would prefer that students learn together, using an expanded curriculum.

But advocates of the idea say it is not matter of separating students, but of reaching out to those in need.

“People are so caught up in believing this is about segregation,” said Beverly-Jean Daniels, who teaches classroom diversity at York University in Toronto. “They’re not willing at the end of the day to see this is about what’s in the best interest of children in our society.”

Reporting by Julie Gordon, Editing by Rob Wilson

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