It’s the only school of its kind in Canada
⭐️HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW⭐️
- The Africentric Alternative School opened in 2009 in Toronto, Ontario
- Africentrism teaches the contributions of Black people around the world.
- Students have opportunities to learn things like African drumming.
- Find out how the school is helping students learn about their culture. ⬇️ ⬇️ ⬇️
In the school library, surrounded by books about Black heroes, stands 13-year-old Amar Ford.
Adjusting his microphone to face the camera, he exudes confidence.
In the weeks leading up to Black History Month, CBC Kids News visited Amar’s school to hear about his personal journey and find out how the school has affected him.
“This school made me more confident, for sure. That’s why I’m up here right now,” he said.
Amar is a Grade 8 student at the Africentric Alternative School in Toronto, Ontario.
Run by the Toronto District School Board, it’s the only Africentric public school in Canada.
The school enrols students from kindergarten to Grade 8.
It embraces Africentrism, which teaches about the contributions from people of African descent worldwide, such as U.S. civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.
A vision for students
The Africentric Alternative School opened in September 2009, before Amar and his friends were born.
The school’s principal, Hugh Reynolds, originally from Jamaica, said the school’s vision aims to “nurture resilience and academic excellence.”
It’s a vision seen in the selection and volume of books in the school’s library.
Stacked on shelves are books about prominent Black figures such as former U.S. president Barack Obama, Canadian civil rights pioneer Viola Desmond and U.S. civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks that students read throughout the year.
The school library has a vast collection of Africentric books featuring stories from ancient history to the civil rights movement. (Image credit: Nick Boisvert/CBC)
But things haven’t always been smooth for the school, which celebrates its 15th anniversary this year.
Some school board trustees were opposed to the idea of opening an Africentric school due to concerns it could cause further division.
“Things have evolved. Students were being pulled from other schools and brought in, but these issues have worked themselves out,” the principal said.
Similar programs exist in other schools across the country, such as the Africentric Cohort in Nova Scotia, but it’s a program that exists within a high school called Auburn Drive High in Cole Harbour.
It’s not its own school.
An Africentric classroom
Amar attended kindergarten at the Africentric Alternative School and was in Grade 1 there until his parents enrolled him in a private school, where he interacted with kids from diverse backgrounds.
Amar’s parents said they realized the curriculum lacked Black history and culture, leaving their son feeling disconnected at times.
Amar returned to the Africentric Alternative School in Grade 5 and has been there ever since.
“We learn the normal stuff the other schools do, but we also learn about our own culture. It helped encourage me, since I’m Black.” Amar said.
Two years ago, the school began its steel pan and African drumming program.
The younger grades learn how to play the African drums, while older students are equipped with steel pan drums.
Students at the Africentric Alternative School learn African drumming. The drums were handmade by one of the school’s first cohort of students. (Image credit: Nick Boisvert/CBC)
The daily pledge
Speech holds great significance at Amar’s school, especially positive words of affirmation.
Each morning, before the start of the day, students recite the school pledge, which aims to foster a positive mindset:
“Today I pledge to be the best possible me. No matter how good I am, I know that I can become better. Today I pledge to be focused, self-disciplined and ready to learn. And today I pledge to believe in me.”
“It’s just like a daily reminder to always do the right things,” said Amar.
He also said it makes him feel good.
‘A rare opportunity’
Reynolds said the school is “a rare opportunity for Black kids to see themselves reflected in what they’re learning.”
“When you see people that look like you, it motivates you to want to do well,” he said.
Amar isn’t the only one who said they benefit from the things this school has to offer.
Saléah Edwards, 13, said she knows a lot more about her history and where she comes from since switching from a private school a few years ago.
Saléah Edwards is in Grade 8. She said her school makes her feel ‘very very happy.’ (Image credit: Jamie McMahon/CBC)
“I get to learn about my heritage more and my background. The school makes me happy, really happy because I get to express my feelings more and talk about things that I don’t really talk about with other people,” she said.
Mateo McGregor, also 13, credits the school for helping him develop leadership skills.
“I used to be really shy, but after being here, I’ve noticed that I’m much more confident with talking to new people,” Mateo said.
Mateo now serves as the student president.
Reynolds said he takes pride in witnessing students like Mateo flourish and reach their full potential.
“I hope that every graduating student recognizes who they are and loves themselves.”
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