Faculty of Education grad is making every head count

When Toronto schools open their doors for the new year on Tuesday, Chris Spence (BEd ’91) will be at the helm of Canada’s largest school board, the city’s first black education director, wrote The Globe and Mail Sept. 5.

None of it might have happened, he says, unless one teacher made the effort to make him feel included [when he arrived in Canada as an immigrant]. Now he wants to bring that sense of belonging to every one of the quarter-million kids in the 550 schools under his umbrella.

He has set himself a huge, maybe impossible, challenge. Thousands of kids in the Toronto board are demonstrably failing to fit in. Instead of feeling they belong, they feel alienated, isolated, excluded, abandoned and angry.

In some poorer parts of the city, less than half the students finish high school. One study found that 40 per cent of Toronto students had carried a weapon outside school, and 15 per cent inside.

Since being appointed education director after five years in the same job for Hamilton, he has been driving home the message to teachers and principals: Believe in your students. Make them feel part of things. Persuade them they have value. Don’t ever write a kid off. That was the approach he took at Lawrence Heights Middle School. When he first arrived, fights often broke out in the halls. The bulletin boards were covered with graffiti. Many kids in the low-income area came to school with neither pen nor paper.

Spence set to work. He let the kids decorate the drab halls with multicultural murals. He taught math to sports-mad boys by using the figures on their baseball cards. He sent kids who had never dreamed of going to university on field trips to the University of Toronto.

Chris’s brother is now an investment banker and his sister [Jacqueline Spence] is a school principal currently teaching in the Consecutive Bachelor of Education Program in York’s Faculty of Education.

Vastly improved Lions squad refuses to quit

The York University football team, known over its 40-year history for getting blown away in games, had a rare opportunity yesterday to start the Ontario University Athletics (OUS) season with a victory, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 8. It was that close.

Trailing the University of Windsor by three with 10:26 left on the clock, York had possession in the Lancers’ end when Lions quarterback Patrick Hooey threw a pass he’d give anything to have back.

Waiting was John Celestino, the Lancers’ beefy fifth-year linebacker, who said thanks for the gift and ran it back 64 yards for a Windsor touchdown and what proved to be the game-winning points in a 17-14 victory that spoiled the fun for 3,500 fans at York Stadium.

Windsor defeated York 40-7 a year ago but this time it was no cakewalk.

Although the Lions haven’t beaten Windsor since 2004 and yesterday’s defeat extended their losing streak to 11 games, the new-look squad doesn’t appear to be the laughingstock of the league any longer.

“We had the ball, the momentum, the offensive line did a great job, but I threw it away – that simple,” said Hooey. “Bad throw, wrong time and I take full blame. There was a mix-up on a play call, I tried to make something out of it and instead we gift-wrapped the game for them. Ten more minutes and it was ours.”

York head coach Mike McLean, who has made huge improvements to the Lions, said he felt as if his team had been punched in the teeth. “This was devastating,” he said. “We want to get this program on a winning streak and instead let this one go. We busted our butt recruiting, changed the culture of this team for the better and came that close. We had moments last year that our team just quit. “This time, they didn’t.”

York got a boost when Australian placekicker Adam Moretti’s 45-yard punt was fumbled by returner Daryl Townend. Anthony Tombler fell on the loose ball in the end zone for the Lions’ first touchdown of the year and the momentum started to turn.

After a scoreless third quarter, and the TD by Celestino that gave Windsor a 17-7 lead, Jason Marshall electrified the crowd with 40 seconds left in the fourth quarter by returning a punt 125 yards for a touchdown, the longest in York history. “It’s always frustrating losing but this was a heartbreaker,” said Marshall. “There is a different atmosphere on this team, we should have won it.”

  • It wasn’t a win, but it was a step, wrote the North Bay Nugget Sept. 8. The previously woeful York University Lions football program is a long way from woeful these days and if the wins aren’t coming just yet, those whose opinion matters the most – the coaches and players wearing the York colours – are convinced they are not far off.

The Lions opened their 2009 OUA football season with a 17-14 loss to the visiting Windsor Lancers yesterday before 1,700 at York Stadium under ideal football conditions.

It was the first game with York for West Ferris Secondary School Trojans graduate Justin Brear, a two-time Nipissing District Secondary School Athletic Association all-star linebacker who suited up at defensive end in his first game with York and registered one solo tackle.

Algonquin Barons product Jon Wilkinson, a running back, is also on the Lions’ football roster as a first-year player.

A touchdown by York’s Jason Marshall with 40 seconds remaining – on a 125-yard return of a missed Windsor field-goal attempt – made the score look closer than the game actually was but just knowing that a couple of plays here or there could have turned the result in York’s favour had head coach Mike McLean upbeat.

York’s really big man on campus

Duane Mark stands 6-foot-8, even when he’s not wearing his size 18 shoes, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 7. He weighs 420 pounds. Throw on several more pounds of football equipment and you’ve got a pretty imposing wall of a man.

All that doesn’t make him a great football player, even on the woeful York University Lions, but it’s a start and he’s going to grab onto any opportunity that can feed his appetite for personal satisfaction.

“People look at me and think I am strange,” said Mark, aware that his size could lead to health problems. “I know that I didn’t take good care of myself for many years, but things have started to change. I’m eating healthier and hope to lose 60 pounds in the next few months.”

Though no one keeps track, Mark is likely the largest player in the Ontario universities league. At age 26, he’s also older than most players and hasn’t played in eight years, but he’s used to dealing with obstacles, after being diagnosed with a learning disability in high school.

“He shocked everyone when he came to camp,” said York head coach Mike McLean. “The guy walked in and my jaw dropped. He knows what to do on the field and I like his aggressiveness but the weight has to come down. When that happens, he’ll be solid for us and I hope we have him for five years.”

Internet teens failing math

Alarmed at how weak high school grads seem in basic algebra – on some campuses up to 50 per cent fail or quit first-year math – a growing number of universities sent out surprise math packages this summer to incoming students to “clear out the cobwebs” and give emergency help to those who need it, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 6.

For the first time, York sent incoming math students an optional online quiz with special Web help for stumbling blocks like trigonometry. (Next year, the quiz may be mandatory.) It also offered weak students a free one-week catch-up course on campus.

Bryant fate in hands of ‘lawyer’s lawyer’

Former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant (LLB ’92) knows his lawyers, wrote The Globe and Mail Sept. 5. So when he selected [fellow Osgoode Hall Law School grad] Marie Henein (LLB ’89) to defend him against charges of criminal negligence and dangerous driving causing death, many outside the legal world were left wondering: “Who?”

But Toronto’s top criminal lawyers say Henein is an obvious choice – a “lawyer’s lawyer” and a formidable opponent who would be at the top of their lists, were they ever to find themselves facing criminal prosecution.

Osgoode Professor Alan Young taught Henein when she was a student at the school and hired her to work on the biggest appeal of his career right after she graduated in 1989. “I recognized immediately that she had talent,” he said.

Henein spent most of her career working behind the scenes at Greenspan Henein and White, where she was groomed by Edward Greenspan, arguably the most famous defence lawyer in the country, who has represented the likes of Garth Drabinsky, Karlheinz Schreiber and Conrad Black.

Henein was made partner in 1998, and began her own practice, Henein & Associates, in 2002. Since then, Henein has worked on several of the country’s highest-profile cases, including the successful acquittal of junior hockey coach David Frost, who had been accused of sexually exploiting some of his players.

Young said that much of the reason Henein remained out of the spotlight for so long is that Greenspan “overshadows everyone”.

  • Sun Media also noted that Henein was an Osgoode grad in its story Sept. 5.
  • Little remains to mark the spot on Bloor Street where cyclist Darcy Allan Sheppard suffered fatal injuries Monday night, after falling from a black Saab convertible driven by former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant (LLB ’92) , wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 5.

It must be pointed out, says York Vice-President Academic & Provost Patrick Monahan, former dean of Osgoode Hall Law School and Bryant friend (“I would do anything for Michael Bryant”), such scrutiny can cut both ways. “The real danger is that he not be treated more harshly because (nobody) wants to be seen as favouring him.”

Financial literacy means being able to plan ahead

Financial literacy means understanding the economic trends that affect your future welfare, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 6 in a story about financing a home purchase. Moshe Milevsky, finance professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University, makes the same point.

“Just because you can afford today’s variable rate of 3 per cent doesn’t mean you can afford it when rates go up.”

In his view, financial literacy means being able to plan ahead for your whole life cycle – not just for the next few months or years. You can use the same strategies in managing your household finances as corporate executives do, Milevsky says in his new book, Are You A Stock or a Bond?

Jane-Finch fights plan to put police in high school

Rahma Siad-Togane (BA Hons. ’09), 22, a former Westview student who just graduated from York University, said the neighbourhood already feels criminalized, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 5, in a story about community opposition to a plan to put police into Westview-Centennial Secondary School. “I really don’t think that’s a way of addressing school safety at all,” Siad-Togane said.

Therapy for couples who are ‘stuck’

Developed by Leslie Greenberg, clinical psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health, the counselling technique emphasizes the visceral expression of emotion in therapy. Conflicts in marriage often solidify into cycles of attack and blame, Greenberg says, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 5 in a story about a marriage-counselling program that works with couples who are "stuck" after suffering an emotional injury. The injured party attacks and blames, the offending party retreats in cold silence or defends in anger.

Emotion-focused therapy is about the feelings beneath the hard shells of anger, and blame, and icy defence. Once a partner expresses those underlying emotions – fear, intense loneliness or shame – the other can feel empathy instead of anger.

“People weep,” Greenberg says. “It’s like they surrender themselves both to themselves and to the other.”

Greenberg’s work received $265,000 in funding between 2001 and 2004 from the John Templeton Foundation. Now Greenberg and his students are seeking couples to volunteer for free counselling in exchange for being videotaped and studied for research. “We’re looking at what processes people who forgive actually go through compared to those who don’t forgive,” Greenberg says.

When lunch was a boozy affair on the boss’s tab

Alan Middleton worked in advertising and marketing, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 5, in a story looking back at the heady days of expensive, business luncheons in Toronto’s best restaurants. “Boy did we ever spend. You just didn’t think twice about it.”

Middleton, now a marketing professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, remembers working for an oil company outside Chicago in the late 1960s. By 5:30pm, he and other staff would leave the office for the tennis or golf club – costs covered by the company – for a night of drinking.

So do you miss the excessive expense account days?, asked the Star. “No,” says Middleton flatly. “It was really frustrating in the afternoons to try and get any work done. To catch somebody, you’d have to wait until he sobered up but before he went out for dinner drinks.”

From Africa to North Buxton

Jamil Jivani had only been back from Kenya for two days, wrote The Chatham Daily News Sept. 5. However, the York University student wanted the people of North Buxton to know what the African nation thought of them. “It’s the spirit of this community that’s relevant to them,” he said.

Jivani, who served as a school teacher in Kenya, was one of four York students selected to speak yesterday at the US/Canadian History & Genealogy Conference. The annual event is part of the Homecoming Celebration at Buxton National Historic Site & Museum.

Jivani, a Kenyan-Canadian, discussed African diaspora, as well as the Universal Negro Improvement Association, which began in 1914.

Fayola Jacobs touched on how minorities had little say in how Canadian history was written over the years. “Canada still paints itself as having two founding people – the English and the French,” she said. “But there have always been people aside from Europeans in Canada.”

She said many less-than-flattering aspects of Canadian history are downplayed or eliminated altogether.

Event organizer and author Bryan Prince said the York University panel provided a refreshing insight into the issues. “The students were so incredible and energetic,” he said. “That is so nice to have that enthusiasm.”

Taking their medicine

“So before the Women’s Health Initiative reported (on the link between breast cancer and HRT in 2002), there were already a lot of people questioning the value of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in preventing cardiovascular disease and other things,” said Joel Lexchin, a physician and professor in York’s School of Health Policy & Management, Faculty of Health, wrote Montreal’s The Gazette Sept. 5 in a story about drug companies’ marketing tactics and a drug-study ghostwriting scandal.

“I would think [drug company] Wyeth saw producing these articles as a way of saying, ‘You may have heard about this controversy, but you can really ignore it because here we have all these wonderful people who are saying the drug is still very useful.’”

“I think the people who do this kind of thing are prostituting themselves for the money, for the prestige of getting published, for the ability to have extra articles added to their CV so they’ll get promoted, and so they can get another research grant,” Lexchin said. “The motivations may be different, but this is what people are doing – taking credit for things they haven’t done.”

The university’s crisis of purpose

In an assessment of the condition of higher education in the Anglo-American world – Multiversities, Ideas, and DemocracyGeorge Fallis, professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, and a former dean at York, deplores the growing dominance of economic justifications for universities, wrote The New York Times Sept. 6. They conflict, he argues, “with other parts of the multiversity’s mission, with…narratives of liberal learning, disinterested scholarship and social citizenship.”

University leaders, he observes, have embraced a market model of university purpose to justify themselves to the society that supports them with philanthropy and tax dollars. Higher education, Fallis insists, has the responsibility to serve not just as a source of economic growth but as society’s critic and conscience.

Canadian astronaut helped with York professor’s experiment

Several Canadian experiments are being conducted aboard the station, wrote Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk, in the Calgary Herald Sept. 6. During the first few weeks of our expedition, an experiment by Laurence Harris, professor in York’s Faculty of Health and the Centre for Vision Research, on neuroperception produced some interesting findings.

Watch my 20-second pregnancy

The appeal of time-lapse pregnancy videos looms large for expectant couples, especially first-timers, says graduate student Jennifer Musial, who researches public reactions to the pregnant body at York University, wrote The Globe and Mail Sept. 7.

“I see it as part of a larger cultural trend, to share pregnancy and to document it,” she says. We’ve come a long way since 1991 when a very pregnant Demi Moore posed on the cover of Vanity Fair to the outcry and intrigue of many, she notes.

Expectant mothers have also meticulously journalized their pregnancy on blogs. “In some ways it’s a way not only of documenting your experience but also of validating your experience, because you can say, ‘Oh look, it happened, here’s a document of my life.’”

Government should create an environment for entrepreneurs

“Do [governments] really have the skill sets to determine which sectors are going to be the winning sectors down the road?” asked Fred Lazar, an economics professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, wrote The Globe and Mail Sept. 7. “If anyone thinks he or she has those skills, that person should be in venture capital or private equity where they could make a lot more money than they could as a government bureaucrat.”

Instead, Lazar insisted, governments should strive to create an environment that favours entrepreneurs. And they should “encourage the creation, development and evolution of as many companies that are going to be at the forefront of their industries as possible and worry less about where they do their R&D or manufacturing. Worry more about retaining their head offices, because that will result in a disproportionate share of [R&D and manufacturing] activities remaining in your country.”

Rules of dumb

Social networking and portable devices have always been described as addictive by their users, wrote the Cornwall Standard-Freeholder Sept. 8. But where does that come from? According to Steve Bailey, a professor in York’s Graduate Program in Communication & Culture in the Faculty of Graduate Studies, it’s all about how we perceive our friendships.

Bailey argues that younger users don’t see a difference between chatting online or by cellphone, and chatting in person. So as long as they have access to their portable devices, they always feel connected to all of their friends. Even when they’re alone. “The constant use of such devices allows them to become almost prosthetic and their use appears more like an extension of one’s eyes or ears than a separate technology.”

So refusing to answer a text message can be as socially awkward as not returning a wave in the hallway at school, making the addiction a purely social enforcement, wrote the Freeholder.

Tall order awaits integrity chief

As Janet Leiper starts her job today as Toronto’s integrity commissioner – a role that involves overseeing and pronouncing on the ethical behaviour of elected officials – she comes armed with experience that should prepare her for any surprises, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 8.

Those who know Leiper say she’s up to the challenges. “She is exceptionally fair in her dealings with others,” says Janet Mosher, associate dean at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. “She understands the importance of fair process, the importance of people being able to articulate their views, including views that are different and antagonistic.”

Energetic, hard-working and focused, Leiper helped set up a unique program at the law school requiring all students to do a minimum of 40 hours of public interest law, wrote the Star.

York student helped build new Hindu temple

The Canada Sri Ayyappan Temple – on Middlefield Road near Finch Avenue East – took more than a decade to build and cost $10 million, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 8. Yesterday, followers celebrated Lord Ayyappan’s homecoming in the 22,000-square-foot space.

Pranavan Ganeshalingam, a student at the Schulich School of Business at York University, said the temple has helped bring him closer to his culture. The 19-year-old, whose parents are from Sri Lanka, volunteered all weekend with two dozen other friends. “I’ve seen other temples, gone there too, but this one I’ve seen being built in front of me,” said Ganeshalingam. “I feel drawn to it.”

GO adds bus trips

GO Transit is adding more bus trips from the University of Guelph to the Cooksville GO station and to York University, wrote the Guelph Tribune and The Hamilton Spectator Sept. 4.

GO will also be adding several new weekday trips between the University of Guelph and York University, with stops at the Aberfoyle Park & Ride, Meadowvale GO Station, Hurontario & 407, and the Bramalea GO Station. Sunday and holiday Monday trips for this route will also resume.

North York hosts four Terry Fox Runs

North York residents who want to help find a cure for cancer can choose from four Terry Fox Runs to participate in on Sunday, Sept. 13, wrote the North York Mirror Sept. 4.

York University is hosting the third event. It takes place at the Tait McKenzie Centre, Keele campus. Enter the University at the northwest gate entrance on Steeles Avenue east of Jane Street. The run begins at 10am. For more information, call 416-736-2100.

On air

  • Richard Fisher, York’s chief marketing officer, and student Gabriela Gueorguieva, spoke about city councillor Howard Moscoe’s statements on York’s parking ticket policy on CBC Radio Toronto’s “Metro Morning” Sept. 3.
  • David Wiesenthal, psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health, spoke about road rage in connection with an incident involving Osgoode grad and former attorney general Michael Bryant and a cyclist, on CBC Radio’s “The World This Weekend” Sept. 5.
  • Craig Heron, history professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, spoke about the history of Labour Day on Vancouver’s CKNW AM980 Radio Sept. 7.
  • Paul Delaney, professor of astronomy & physics in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about the top 10 ways to have “no money fun” on Citytv Sept. 5.