Nadia Hohn and her grade 1 students, are part of the historic first class in Canada's only Africentric public school. And for the first day of school, she has chosen a worksheet based on a Jamaican song called "Chi Chi Bud Oh."
Her students will use the worksheet to learn the song, identify Jamaican birds and practice drawing.
As this worksheet is based on a traditional Jamaican folk song, it reflects the background of many of Hohn's students.
"This is why I wanted to work at the Africentric Alternative School – because research shows you engage students, especially those who may feel marginalized, by letting them see themselves in their lessons," Hohn said yesterday during a visit to the school that will open Tuesday with 85 students from junior kindergarten to Grade 5.
Hohn is one of the five teachers hired for Canada's most high-profile new public school, all of them women of colour who said they applied to work here because they believe it will help battle a 40 per cent dropout rate among black students.
Leah Newbold, who will teach gym and French, is fresh out of teachers' college at the University of Toronto.
"Of any school in Toronto, this is absolutely the one I wanted to work at right away," said Newbold. "I really believe kids in our community are brilliant, if only the schools set them up to succeed."
After nearly two years of public debate about whether an Africentric school would divide or enrich Toronto's diversity – some slammed it as segregation, others hailed it as cultural awareness. The alternative school will open in Sheppard Public School on Sheppard Ave. just west of Keele St.
Principal Thando Hyman-Aman led tours of the classrooms, which have banners proclaiming the seven principles of Kwanzaa, a holiday honouring African culture, written in both Swahili and English: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, purpose, creativity, faith and cooperative economics.
Traditional African mud cloth hangs from some tables and doors. The music room has steel pan drums and African shakers. Framed posters of accomplished African-Canadians line the halls.
A long-time supporter of the program, Ryerson professor Grace-Edward Galabuzi watched yesterday's open house with excitement, as did Donna Harrow and Angela Wilson, the two mothers who encouraged trustees to open the school.
"I'm filled with so many emotions, all of them happy," said Wilson.
In Marina Hodge's Grade 2/3 class, Berenstain Bears books are tucked among more culturally representative reads such as Africa is Not a Country and One Smiling Grandma: A Caribbean Counting Book.
"Our children will learn the Ontario curriculum," Hyman-Aman said. "But we want to make sure the whole story is told."
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