Future teachers learn to work with underprivileged

As a student at the Regent Park site of York University’s Faculty of Education, Elvis Francis understands who the underprivileged children are in his classroom a little more than most would-be teachers, reported The Globe and Mail in a feature on the program Oct. 25. Like others learning the profession, he spends a few days every week as an apprentice teacher in the school. But the rest of his time, he sits with his fellow student teachers in a makeshift classroom in Regent Park’s bustling community centre learning the tricky business of teaching to disadvantaged children, but on their turf.

For the 45 university students at this unusual satellite facility, it is a gritty immersion course in teacher training. To graduate, the students are required to perform at least two hours a week of volunteer work with neighbourhood social agencies. In their timetable, there’s a course called community development in which new teachers study the tapestry of life in a neighbourhood where poverty, drugs and crime mix with a small-town spirit. “We see the role of teachers as not just coming into the community to teach for six hours and then leaving,” says Jeff Kugler, the long-time principal at Nelson Mandela Park Public School who pushed for a Regent Park training site. “So the program was designed to allow student teachers to get a sense of the children who they’re teaching in their classroom, but in situations outside of that classroom as well. To get a sense of the whole child.”

That this is not the usual crop of student teachers is obvious during a recent community-development class. Teachers colleges are still dominated by white faces, but these students hail from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds. And most of the students are older, in their 30s and 40s, and have worked for years at other professions. Francis, 35, was raised by a single mother in a working-class neighbourhood of Toronto. He has already made up his mind to teach at an underprivileged school once he graduates. “As a minority person, you should do whatever it takes to help your group out,” he says. “I really do think I can make a difference in my community and definitely make a difference as a teacher.”

No student money going into stadium

In response to an Oct. 24 letter in the Toronto Star claiming the new stadium gives students nothing, Richard Fisher, chief communications officer at York University, wrote: “York student Tiffany Dickson claims student tuition fees are being used to fund the new stadium. No funds intended for academic programs are being diverted to invest in the stadium – a facility that her fellow students, including the York Lions, will use and benefit from more than the Argos or any other group. Those interested in health and sports at York know that in terms of athletic space, our campus ranks lowest among all Ontario universities. We believe this is a priority need for our students and we make no apologies for investing in a superb facility that would have been otherwise impossible to build on our own by 2006.”

St. John’s director wins Siminovitch

Jillian Keiley, the Newfoundland director who claimed Canada’s richest theatrical prize last night, has some pretty pragmatic plans for her share of the $100,000 purse, reported The Toronto Sun Oct. 27. “I’m going to pay some bills and do some of those things I’ve been putting off,” she said of winning the 2004 Elinore & Lou Siminovitch Prize In Theatre, alluding to everything from a haircut to dental work and bill payments, said the Sun. Keiley was chosen from a field of 59 candidates from across the country and emerged victorious from a field of five that included Toronto’s Alisa Palmer, said the Sun. The Siminovitch Prize is sponsored by BMO Financial Group. Keiley returned to Newfoundland after graduating with a BFA in theatre from York University in 1994, and as founding artistic director of Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland, she has directed 14 new productions.

Canadian Press Oct. 26, the Toronto Star and National Post Oct. 27 also published the news. The Star said Keiley wants to take time out to learn French, as she also teaches at the National Theatre School in Montreal. The Post reported her reaction to winning such a rich prize: “There’s so much instability in the arts, that to get a big chunk of money, you get a big chunk of guilt – and it’s not just because I’m Catholic,” said Keiley, who named her friend and collaborator Danielle Irvine as protege. The Post said she has directed a number of successful productions, including In Your Dreams Freud, Under Wraps: A Spoke Opera, The Chekhov Variations, and Belly Up. Her next production – the premiere of a play called The Pope and Princess Di – opens in December.

Boom years for philanthropy

Philanthropy in Canada is coming of age, reported the Toronto Star Oct. 27. We are giving more and becoming more sophisticated about how and where we donate our dollars. The richest have become increasingly generous, at the same time putting a lasting stamp on the country’s institutions. “Individuals are looking to have an impact on philanthropy. We are seeing more focused, powerful gifts that can really transform an institution,” said Paul Marcus, president and CEO of the York University Foundation. “It is raising the bar of philanthropy.”

Club hires former York hockey player

The Couchiching Terriers have hired Bill Maguire to coach the provincial Junior A hockey club, reported The Packet & Times in Orillia Oct. 27. As captain of the York University Yeomen (now the Lions), he won two Canadian university championships and was named an All-Canadian. He later became a York University men’s assistant hockey coach before becoming head coach of the Barrie Colts Junior B team. Maguire is listed as owner and director of a hockey clinic in Barrie called Concept Hockey.

Building on success

When PCL Construction was established in Saskatchewan in 1906, it made its name building four-room brick schoolhouses, banks and town halls across the prairies. Today, it’s better known for projects like the Air Canada Centre, BCE Place and the huge redevelopment of the Toronto airport, reported The Toronto Sun Oct. 27. PCL is also constructing the Accolade Project at York University. That project includes two buildings, one containing a 325-seat theatre hall and music, theatre and dance studios.

A shocking episode in Toronto history

History is not news, but a shocking episode from Toronto’s past was recently rediscovered. Now, with the rough eloquence and urgency of the present tense, the anti-Greek riots are in the news again, wrote columnist Joe Fiorito in the Toronto Star Oct. 27. The anti-Greek riots? George Treheles is a broadcast engineer, active in his community and a friend of Michail Vitopoulos, a course director in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics, and Thomas Gallant, Hellenic Heritage Professor in Modern Greek History, both in York’s Faculty of Arts. The three men were talking one day. There is a wisp of a rumour, said Tom, about some sort of uprising against the Greeks in Toronto at the end of World War I. Who knew about that? Nobody. Wrote Fiorito: “George told me what happened next over a cup of coffee on the Danforth recently. ‘We talked about the rumour. I got inspired to do some digging. Mike and Tom are supportive guys.’ (Read: They nudged.)” Eventually Treheles found an old Toronto Star clipping from 1918. “Treheles, Vitopoulos and Gallant fleshed out the rest of the story and Gallant, a compelling speaker, presented their paper to the Greek community at city hall on a recent evening,” wrote Fiorito.

Former ballerina champions the arts

Veronica Tennant, who was a prima ballerina with the National Ballet of Canada for 25 years, has been appointed to the National Arts Centre’s board of trustees, reported the Ottawa Citizen Oct. 27. Tennant, 57, an adjunct professor of dance in York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts and a television producer, was one of the National Ballet’s biggest stars. She performed every major classical role and also had major roles in several ballets created for her. She performed internationally as guest artist, and was a partner to some of the world’s greatest male dancers, including Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolf Nureyev.

Swan’s latest seductive idea

Somehow it was not a surprise to learn, several years ago, that Susan Swan was writing a book about Casanova, wrote Toronto Star entertainment columnist Susan Walker Oct. 27. Her previous fiction – The Wives of Bath, The Last Of The Golden Girls, Stupid Boys Are Good To Relax With – established her as a writer for whom the intellectual and the sexual happily co-exist. The key to Swan’s novel is in the title, What Casanova Told Me. This is Casanova filtered through the eyes of a woman, depicted as he would have women depict him and re-encountered in the 21st century by a Luce, a young Toronto archivist. Her journey from Venice to Istanbul follows the same route as taken by Swan’s 18th-century, 28-year-old Puritan, Asked For Adams, as she accompanies the 71-year-old Casanova to Constantinople. Swan, a humanities professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, won’t deny that there is something of her in all her characters, even Casanova. “I felt like I was part of this world for a while. My body had become the book. After I had finished, Patrick [Crean, her partner] said he could see me coming back to myself.”