Jane-Finch program promotes teen learning

The Toronto Star featured Promoting Excellence, a six-week summer program for young Jane-Finch teenagers at York University, in a story Aug. 11 that included several York participants. The program – run by Jane-Finch’s Caring Village, a non-profit group of community agencies, service providers and area residents, in conjunction with York University and the Toronto District School Board – is also serving as a pilot project in the fall for a broader initiative for all students at Westview Centennial Secondary School.

“We want these kids to get off to a really good start in high school,” says Glenn Stuart, adjunct professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School and director of the Community and Legal Aid Services Program, an Osgoode student-staffed clinic involved in the program. “We’re trying to do that by conveying to them that there are people willing and ready to help. The complications these kids face today cannot be addressed by just parents, just school officials or just community groups. But if we bring all of those groups together, then maybe something positive can happen and we can help them live up to their potential.”

Typically, these young people face systemic barriers from such factors as race, ethnicity and economic class that aren’t encountered by peers in other neighbourhoods, said the Star. “The students here have often spent far too much time sitting outside the principal’s office and the system hasn’t found an adequate way of dealing with them,” says Don Dippo, professor in York’s Faculty of Education and York University Faculty Association representative on the summer program steering committee. “So their record of achievement is much lower than it could and should be.”

Promoting Excellence, a $150,000 program funded by community groups, the University and school board, as well as private corporations and the provincial government, aims to help in a variety of ways. Students, who attend voluntarily and for free, are bused to and from the University. They spend mornings working with four young and enthusiastic Toronto teachers on English, math and enhanced learning skills, such as note-taking, how to organize a binder and setting school and career goals.

They also see the familiar face of English teacher and York alumnus Jeremy Parkes (MA ‘03). With a style that’s relaxed but firmly in charge, he’s spent six weeks schooling students in grammar and talking to them about Westview, making it clear to all that they have what it takes to do well there. “These are amazing kids, even the ones who need structure,” Parkes says. “This is the turning point for many of them. “They can either buy into the Jane-Finch label and feel they have to act tough and not do their homework, or they can realize ‘Hey, I can succeed’.”

Hoping to arrest development

Wednesday night, at a recreation centre at one of the few condos in University City, that long-time vertical neighbourhood around Finch Avenue and Sentinel Road near York University, some 50 residents – tenants, condo owners and a few homeowners from the bungalows and back-splits to the south – met to slam a proposal to almost double the number of housing units in one of the most densely populated areas of the city, wrote columnist Royson James in the Toronto Star Aug. 11.

Plans are to put in 1,118 condo units in eight buildings scattered on the site, primarily on the current parking lots. The existing rental buildings would remain, with a $10-million upgrade. Two outdoor swimming pools would be lost, but the developer promises an indoor pool and meeting rooms for the existing tenants. And the subway is coming to Keele and Finch, remember. A good number of the trees would be cut down. The developer boasts of replacing them at a rate of three to one. And the proposal claims actual green space would be reduced by less than 1 per cent, wrote James.

The root of poverty in Canada is public policy

Canadians see their public policies toward the provision of health care and social services and other supports to citizens to be responsive, fair and equitable. If there is poverty we attribute it to individual failings rather than the shape of our public policies, wrote Dennis Raphael, professor in York’s School of Health Policy & Mangement in the Faculty of Health, in an opinion piece published in Montreal’s Le Devoir Aug. 8.

These views are misguided. Canada has one of the highest poverty rates for individuals, families, and children among modern industrialized nations. In reality, Canadian public policy in a wide range of spheres – including poverty prevention – are undeveloped as compared to most European nations. Our poverty rates are particularly problematic as poverty is the strongest determinant of individual and population health, wrote Raphael. Poverty is also the strongest determinant of numerous indicators of societal quality of life such as literacy, crime and social cohesion.

There has been little policy action on poverty ever since the House of Commons’ 1989 pledge to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. It would be fanciful to believe that the election of the Harper Conservative minority government will see any change in direction. Policy makers would do better to focus on public policies that create poverty rather than blaming the victims of these policies for their situations, said Raphael.

  • An influential Conservative may have come up with the ideal antidote for the hard edge his party has developed as a result of its bellicose stances on the foreign policy front: global poverty, reported The Vancouver Sun Aug. 11. It’s the next big issue the Harper gang should embrace, asserts Rick Peterson, a Vancouver business person who chairs the Conservative Council. The Sun said 15 per cent of children domestically live in “internationally defined relative poverty,” according to a just-released Institute for Research on Public Policy paper by Professor Dennis Raphael of York’s School of Health Policy & Management, Faculty of Health.

Runner with a cause

York graduate student Gregory Knoll is the marathon man, wrote the Brantford Expositor Aug. 11. And just one marathon isn’t enough to catch the attention of the public in the way Knoll wants, so he’s going to run two-and-a-half marathons – back to back to back. Knoll is planning a 100-kilometre run from Long Point to Brantford on Aug. 26 to raise awareness for prostate cancer, a disease that he says doesn’t have a very high profile.

“There’s no slogan or ribbon campaign for prostate cancer,” Knoll said. “But it’s the one cancer that can be beaten as long as there’s early detection, so people have to know about it.” A PhD student in clinical psychology at York University, Knoll has learned a lot about prostate cancer since a close family member was diagnosed with it.

Fine Arts film course features TVO’s ‘best form of enlightenment’

TVOntario’s “Saturday Night at the Movies” is an institution for people who want more to their lives than Leaf games, wrote the Ottawa Citizen Aug. 11. It truly is more than just television. Last Saturday’s presentation was a classic. Two great Greer Garson vehicles, Random Harvest and Mrs. Miniver, both from 1942, formed a double feature in which former host Elwy Yost would revel, he a Garson fan. With Yost’s great catalogue of interviews surrounding those movies, it is enjoyment and education – surely the best form of enlightenment. In fact, York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts offers an online credit in conjunction with the Saturday offerings.

York playwright brings Toronto cast to hometown

Musical /’mju:zikal/ n. film or play etc. with music or song as principle feature. See also, Aaron Jensen, wrote The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) Aug. 11. The Prince Albert native has returned home from Toronto to stage the world premiere of OED: Dementia, Devotion and the Writing of the Oxford English Dictionary. Jensen (BFA ‘06) acts in the musical which he wrote with Toronto songwriter Caylie Staples. “It’s incredible to be in Prince Albert,” said Jensen, 23, who appeared in some 30 local productions starting at age 11 before leaving home to attend school. He just finished his honours music degree from York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts, majoring in composition. “To have a new work performed at all is quite a big deal,” Jensen says. But to have it done in a first-class facility like the A.E. Rawlinson Centre for the Arts is “really unheard of”.

Pushing mom’s no worry for this York student

When York student Chris Todd began telling his mother and some of her friends at Christmas one year about his dragon boating experiences, he didn’t imagine they would become part of his future stories, reported The Toronto Sun Aug. 11. Four years later, there’s nothing Todd would rather be doing than coaching his mother Marg, 56, and 24 other 50-plus women with the Sunwing Flyers, one of the teams entered in the dragon boat club crew world championships [held in Toronto this past weekend].

Todd said his coaching methods have changed over the years after it was clear the motivation for the women changed. “The toughest thing is knowing how hard you can push them without breaking them and without them being discouraged,” Todd said. “They are reaching a level now where I can push them a lot more and I’m not too worried about it.”