Osgoode alumna proves ‘nice’ can finish first

Margarett Best (LLB ’95) is the kind of woman you’d love to hate, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 20.

The outside is bad enough: She’s thin, fit, pretty and looks at least 10 years younger than her 49 years. [A graduate of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School,] she had a successful practice as a lawyer before running as a rookie in Scarborough-Guildwood in the provincial election in October, and now the rookie is an Ontario government cabinet minister.

You’d love to hate Best, but she seems too nice. Not bland-and-vacuous nice, which would be boring and grounds for feeling smugly superior. No, she’s nice-from-experience nice, possessed of the inner dignity and empathy that come from battling adversity – repeatedly – and winning.

She knows what it is like to struggle through daily routines with a broken heart. Her mother died when Best was 11. Margarett and a sister emigrated from Jamaica to Detroit to live with an uncle, who died when Best was 14. They began working nights in a nursing home to support themselves. Best had to lie about her age to get hired.

She met a Canadian and moved to Toronto, where she raised three children – now 33, 30 and 20 – while working in a law office and taking night classes. For many years, she was a single mom, juggling it all on her own.

Minister of health promotion is a good fit for the health-conscious Best. She drinks at least eight glasses of water every day, walks half an hour every day and likes to hit the gym three days a week.

Best is clearly engaged by the idea of helping Ontarians improve their health, even if she hasn’t quite yet mastered the pedometers her ministry hands out, one of which she has begun wearing to track the number of steps she takes each day.

York alumni publish insightful essays by their ESL students

Writing helps reveal the complexity of the immigrant experience, teachers at Jones Avenue Adult Centre have found, and each year since 2002 they have compiled and published essays by their 300 English-as-a-second-language students, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 20. The latest edition of the anthology, called Footprints, is to be launched today, during ESL week in Toronto, at a private function at the Toronto school board’s offices.

"Often students who have trouble articulating in the classroom will reveal all these layers of themselves through their writing," says editor and York alumna Momoye Sugiman (BA ’81), one of the teachers at the school. "I’ve gotten to know some very shy, withdrawn students through their writing."

The results, as Jones Avenue school site manager Mary Jane Walker points out in her introduction to the 123-page book, are stories told with rare and poignant clarity. Some of the authors are people in mid-life. Others, like Nguyen Nhu Trang, 21, who has just learned that she has been accepted at York University in chemical engineering, are just beginning their adult lives.

She may be pushing 50, but Barbie’s still got legs

Andrea O’Reilly, a professor in York’s School of Women’s Studies and director of the Association for Research on Mothering at York, says she grew up playing with Barbies, but did not allow them for her two daughters, now 18 and 20, because of the unrealistic beauty standards the doll represented, wrote The Globe and Mail Nov. 20. "I kind of regret it," O’Reilly says. "I have a far more positive view of Barbie than I did 10 years ago," she says, adding that she still wishes Barbie could be more racially diverse.

But compared with the newer trend toward battery-operated baby dolls that are designed to be fed and changed, O’Reilly says, playing with Barbie allows girls to act out grown-up, yet independent adventures. "Barbie is about being an adult. She’s not about being a mother," she says.

"When you are playing with dolls, you’re positioned as a mother, a caretaker. Nothing troubles me more than when I see little girls at 4, 5, 6 shopping with their mom and they’re already pushing a baby carriage, their mobility restricted."

More than a schoolyard problem

With national bully-free week kicking off, the Senate of Canada and childhood aggression experts are calling for a national strategy on bullying, based on research that shows not only sticks and stones, but words, can break your bones,

"Learning how to get along with other people is far more complex than any other subject you learn in school, yet it’s something we take for granted children will learn," said Debra Pepler, a professor at York’s Lamarsh Centre for Research on Violence & Conflict Resolution, in an article in the Sault Star Nov. 19.

Pepler is the scientific co-director of Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network. PREVNet wants to spearhead a national bullying program the Senate recommended Canada put in place earlier this year.

‘Ambassador of the saxophone’ taught at York

Paul Brodie, a classical musician who became known as the "ambassador of the saxophone," died yesterday while undergoing heart surgery at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, wrote The Globe and Mail Nov. 20. He was 73.

Raised in Regina, he played the clarinet as a boy and then studied saxophone at the University of Michigan. He graduated in 1958, and three years later made his first solo appearance with the Toronto Symphony. With 50 albums to his credit, he came to be considered the most recorded concert saxophonist in the history of the instrument.

Over the years, he taught woodwinds at Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, the University of Toronto and then York University.

York Region school board holds ABEL-aided video conference

New technology adopted by the York Region District School Board is connecting students across the region while cutting costs, wrote the Vaughan Citizen Nov. 17. It is a York University program known as ABEL (advanced broadband enabled learning). It requires a video camera to send live feed, video conference software and a virtual room created by the school board for all schools participating, computer resource teacher Ian Gowans said.

Not only are students across the region getting to know each other, but it also cuts cost for schools since a speaker would only have to be paid once instead of for each school and it keeps transportation costs to a minimum since students can participate from their own classrooms, school board spokesperson Ross Virgo said. The school board has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars, plus hours of labour, and partnered with York University to bring this educational technology to its schools.

On air

  • York student Somia Sadiq spoke about a public protest of Pakistan’s emergency rule at Toronto City Hall, on OMNI-TV news Nov. 19.