Three ‘model schools’ reimagine their role with York’s help

One afternoon this week, teachers Vicky Branco and Harpreet Ghuman picked their way through the impressive mess in the hallway of Firgrove Public School, a bunker-like elementary school tucked between Humber River Regional Hospital and the public-housing high-rises on Jane Street. This is one of those cases where you should judge the book by its cover, wrote The Globe and Mail Aug. 26.

As a model inner-city school, Firgrove is about to receive additional staff and resources, team up with York University‘s Faculty of Education, and find itself under the microscope for years to come. The quid pro quo is that Branco and her staff are expected to take what they have learned and spread the gospel to other educators, especially those in neighbouring schools faced with the same issues, but minus the financial windfall associated with model-school status.

Last January, the Toronto District School Board selected the school, from among many strong applications. With that, Firgrove shifted into high gear to prepare for 2006-2007. Branco reinstated a full phys-ed program, which had been cut over the years. The teachers began taking intensive professional development through York, and they will also be learning how to teach teachers at other schools to do the things that are successful at Firgrove.

Nervous? York astronaut says he’d be worried if he wasn’t

When Canadian astronaut Steve MacLean (BSc ’77, PhD ’83, DSc (Hon.) ’93),  takes the long elevator ride up to the cabin of the space shuttle Atlantis and straps himself in to wait for blast-off, he is the first to admit he will be a little anxious, wrote the National Post Aug. 26. “I’m not one of those guys who says: ‘It’s no problem, I’m not worried at all’,” he says. “If you’re not nervous, then there’s something wrong with you. “I mean, you’re sitting on top of several million pounds of propellant, all of which has to light within milliseconds of each other. That’s got to give you pause.”

When the shuttle launches, MacLean, a 51-year-old physicist from Ottawa and Toronto, will become the first Canadian in space since 2001, delayed by the long hiatus in NASA’s shuttle program after the destruction of the shuttle Columbia. “Yeah, I’ve just had the worst luck getting shuttle flights,” he said in a recent interview from Johnson Space Center in Houston. “For sure, I never anticipated that it would take this long to get another flight.”

  • MacLean was also featured in a pre-recorded interview on CBC Newsworld and CTV News, Aug. 25, about his upcoming shuttle flight.

  • Graham Huber (BDes ’04) and Gigi Lui (BDes ’04), graduates of the York/Sheridan Joint Program in Design, spoke about their patch design for the crew of the shuttle Atlantis and MacLean, on CHCH TV’s “CH Morning Live” Aug. 25. 

Space: Is it beyond Canada’s orbit

Canadian astronaut Steve MacLean‘s participation in the next launch of the space shuttle Atlantis may be the beginning of a long, drawn-out farewell to Canada’s manned space program, wrote the National Post Aug. 28. The perpetually underfunded and overachieving Canadian Space Agency is running up against massive changes in NASA, government indifference, an ageing astronaut corps and, perhaps most important, a budget that has been frozen for almost a decade.

Gordon Shepherd, director of York University’s Centre for Research in Earth & Space Science, is less certain that a Canadian will ever fly to the moon or beyond. He said the fact that the Canadian Space Agency has not recruited any new astronauts for several years is an indication that its manned program is on hold for the time being. “This is a crucial period for the Canadian astronaut program,” he said. “I think the agency’s concerned about the future and they don’t want to commit too far ahead with new astronauts. They’re getting very nervous about the whole program, I think.”

Shepherd said the manned portion of the Canadian space program is still important, however, if only for public relations reasons. “The Canadian public seems to relate better to astronauts than they do to space scientists,” he said drily. More critically, he sees no change in the policies of successive federal governments toward the Canadian Space Agency. “The government really seems to have forgotten about our space program…and I suspect the new [Conservative] government isn’t going to be that much different. “And that’s kind of puzzling to me, given the popularity of the program with the public.”

York student excited about her new citizenship

For Hira Munir, an 18-year-old from Pakistan who begins her studies at York University this fall, her recent citizenship ceremony was very moving, reported the Toronto Star Aug. 28. “It was great, wonderful, obviously,” she said immediately after the ceremony. “I’m very excited.” Her proud father Mohammad and sister Huma were in the audience cheering her on and snapping pictures.

Marijuana-schizophrenia link is an old hobgoblin, says Young

A pair of articles in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry has resurrected the “reefer madness” argument about marijuana and its links to mental illness, reported The Edmonton Journal Aug. 28. Cannabis use can trigger schizophrenia in people already vulnerable to the mental illness – and this fact should shape marijuana policy, argue two psychiatric epidemiologists in this month’s journal. The link between marijuana use and schizophrenia is generally accepted in the psychiatric community. The problem is that the vulnerable population – mostly teenagers – generally isn’t eager to absorb the message. Alan Young, a criminal law expert at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, said linking marijuana and mental illness has been around for decades. “This is that old hobgoblin that resurfaces now and again. There’s nothing new in the literature. They just keep rehashing the old literature.”

York graduate could get more playing time with Argos

Former York Lions’ running back Jeff Johnson (BA ‘02) would likely replace Toronto Argonaut’s injured John Avery if he is unable to play against the Ticats, reported the Toronto Star Aug. 27. Johnson almost came out of Friday’s game wearing the goat horns when he fumbled at his own 27-yard line with less than two minutes remaining. However, Orlondo Steinauer bailed him out one play later when the veteran safety intercepted Bomber quarterback Mike Quinn’s pass in the end zone.

Alumna copes with terrorism’s impact on hotel industry

Among Four Seasons’ 70 properties in 31 countries are hotels in New York, London and Istanbul where terror attacks have traumatized the local population, and two resorts in Bali, where tourists were killed in terrorist attacks in 2003 and 2005, reported the Toronto Star Aug. 27. “We had almost fully recovered from the first attack when the second occurred,” says York alumna Kathleen (Katie) Taylor, 48, (LLB/MBA ‘84) recently promoted to president and chief operating officer of Four Seasons, and widely regarded as the eventual successor to founder and CEO Isadore Sharp, 74.

Sharp identified Taylor as a kindred spirit not long after, as she puts it, she joined Four Seasons as “the Number 2 in a two-person legal department.” Taylor, who inspected 28 hotels last year, aspired during her Oshawa upbringing to be a member of the Canadian Olympic volleyball team, not to be opening new five-star hotels in Florence, Barbados and Marrakesh,Morocco, in the next year or so. “But I was always a joiner,” she says. At York’s Osgoode Hall Law School and Schulich School of Business, where Taylor studied, she earned her law degree and an MBA, “I was always someone who got people together to do something as a team. And that fits perfectly with the collaborative spirit here.”

Former York education dean to head Miami school

The Adrian Dominican School of Education at Barry University in Miami Shores has a new dean, reported the Miami Herald Aug. 27. Terry Piper was appointed the school’s dean, effective Aug. 15. A native of Missouri, Piper has served as academic vice-president at Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Toronto. She also spent several years as a professor of English at various universities and served as dean of York University’s Faculty of Education from 1999 to 2001.

Nike’s new temple of tech

Across the street from the Black Bull Tavern, where the most strenuous activity on the patio would be lifting your beer pitcher whilst swivelling your neck to watch people on Queen Street West, stands Toronto’s latest Nike store, a sleek high-tech temple to sports culture, reported the Toronto Star Aug. 26. The mega brand, which opened the shop last Friday, is just the latest retailer to locate on fashion-crazed Queen West, which is fast becoming an open air mall of sorts. Part-time employee Ron Dias, 22, who is majoring in music in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, has been wearing Nike sneakers since he was 13 and currently owns 20 pairs. “For me, it’s the style, colour scheme, cushion and comfort,” he says. “Nike is innovative; they are always inventing.”

Program gave teenagers much more than a summer job

The jobs are near minimum wage, but the opportunities are priceless, wrote the Toronto Star Aug. 26. That was the message from youth advocates and Jane-Finch area teens, who yesterday graduated from a provincial job-placement program designed to give youth in Toronto’s high-risk neighbourhoods something to write under the “experience” heading of their resumes. The 127 teens gathered at the Jamaican Canadian Association were among 800 in Toronto who got full-time jobs paying $8 an hour through the $2.6 million program. It is being expanded to place 1,650 Ontario teens in each of the next two years at a cost of $5.3 million annually. Negus Lamont, 15, landed a placement with York University’s Upfront Theatre Foundation, where he learned broadcasting, video production and drama skills. Programs like this one are necessary he said, because “a lot of people I know come from places where they’re just loitering around doing nothing.”

York student’s festival play warms reviewers

The Times Colonist (Victoria) published a review of Cassandra Aug. 26, a play by York student Brianna Brown, who wrote and performs this intelligent and charming one-woman show. While the main theme of deciding between practicality and following your dreams isn’t a surprising one coming from someone who specializes in writing and directing at York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts, Brown’s unique approach to the subject matter and fine delivery make this a likeable show.

Flaherty’s backtracking on subway called ‘wishy-washy’

This week’s back-tracking by Ottawa on a promised $1.3 billion in transit funding, including a proposed subway extension to Vaughan, may be a matter of politics, said Councillor Sandra Yeung Racco, chairperson of the Spadina-York Subway Extension Committee, reported the Newmarket/Aurora Era-Banner Aug. 25. “This is typical Tory politics – not making a decision but sitting wishy-washy on this whole thing,” said Yeung Racco, who is married to Thornhill MPP Mario Racco. She was disappointed by the revelation by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty that the federal money for the project was far from guaranteed. The subway extension would include 6.2 kilometres of new tracks beginning at Downsview station, through York University, across Steeles Avenue and up to Vaughan’s city centre.

The subway issue continued to make news in other publications too.

  • Scarborough’s dream for a subway is dead, reported the Toronto Star Aug. 28. It will be officially buried Wednesday when TTC commissioners meet and formally recommend a cheaper plan to refurbish the existing Scarborough RT line to accommodate larger, new generation vehicles.

Even Scarborough councillors, who are putting together a position paper to outline the area’s transit demands, seem to be okay with the idea that North York will get yet another subway (to York University) while Scarborough remains stuck at three subway stations.

  • The kind of things that Toronto city council gets away with there, would get politicians and bureaucrats crucified in Ottawa, wrote The Ottawa Citizen Aug. 28, in an editorial about a decision to award a contract for new subway cars. Then there are Toronto and York region leaders clamouring to build a $2-billion, 6.2-kilometre subway extension for York University and into Vaughan. Ottawa’s light-rail project running all the way from Barrhaven to the University of Ottawa costs less than half the subway deal. Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is wavering about putting $670 million into the project. Keep wavering, Mr. Flaherty. The plan is way too expensive. Subways are wonderful to ride on but light-rail is much cheaper and thus the option of most fiscally responsible cities needing fast transit. Toronto needs to remember that.

Monahan says Senate term limit wouldn’t need constitutional ammendment

During the January election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised Senate reform, including elections and, as the first step, he has introduced a bill that would limit terms to eight years, reported the National Post Aug. 26. The current mandatory retirement age is 75, and some Liberal senators have already said the proposed law on term lengths requires a constitutional amendment.

Constitutional expert Benoit Pelletier, the province’s intergovernmental affairs minister, said whether terms can be set for the Senate without a constitutional amendment is “debatable” and that he is seeking legal advice on the matter. The Conservative government says it has legal opinions from two prominent constitutional experts – Osgoode Hall Law School Dean Patrick Monahan and University of Ottawa professor emeritus and former senator, Gerard Beaudoin – who say the term limits do not require constitutional amendments.

Commodities boom sparks exploration rush

Ontario has a much-heralded mining history. More than 300 years ago, French explorers, traversing the Great Lakes west to what’s now Manitoba, discovered a cache of nickel on the shore of Lake Superior, wrote the Toronto Star Aug. 26. But the question was, how to get it back to the lakeside ports in Quebec to ship to Europe. “They had to take it back through the lakes and Niagara Falls and up the St. Lawrence [River],” said Conrad Heidenreich, York professor emeritus of historical geography, a leading expert on early Canadian history and geography. “They must have said, ‘… forget it’.”

Figures on police shootings are more than just black and white

There are several possible knee-jerk reactions to the report released Thursday at the Ipperwash inquiry which found black and native people are more likely to be shot by police than whites, wrote columnist Ian Gillespie in The London Free Press Aug. 26. The first response is that police ranks are filled with trigger-happy racists. The second reaction is that blacks and natives get shot more by police because blacks and natives commit more crimes. Both reactions, I think, tend to shed more light on respondents than on the issue itself, said Gillespie.

A 1994 York University survey, for instance, indicated 55 per cent of Toronto’s black community believe police are more likely to use force against blacks than whites, while 33 per cent of blacks feel there’s no difference. In contrast, only 26 per cent of white respondents feel police are more likely to use force against blacks, while 61 per cent feel there is no difference. It’s clear that how you react to these questions depends a great deal on who you are.

On air

  • Paul Delaney, professor in York’s Department of Physics & Astronomy, Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about Pluto not being classified a planet any longer, on CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning” Aug. 25 and on CTV stations in Sudbury, North Bay and Timmins Aug. 24. Delaney also spoke about the upcoming launch of the shuttle Atlantis on CTV Aug. 25.

  • Saeed Rahnema, political science professor in York’s Atkinson School of Liberal & Professional Studies, spoke about rebuilding and peacekeeping efforts in Lebanon on CTV News Aug. 25.