Africentric school finds a white knight in York grad

When two Grade 5 students win scholarships this month for best marks and improvement at Toronto’s new Africentric school, they can thank a white, globe-trotting, multilingual – seven languages and counting – tennis-mad, volunteer-aholic 50-year-old English as a second language teacher from Forest Hill, wrote the Toronto Star June 5.

York grad Danny Pivnick (BA ’82) may seem an unlikely sponsor of the first scholarship for Canada’s only public school focused on black students, but the snapshots from his latest trip would fit right into the curriculum.

Pivnick has organized a raft of school programs in northwest Toronto. He helped bring in a “Guitars, Not Guns” anti-violence program at Beverley Heights Middle School. He connected with York University students to help with after-school arts and music. He helped with after-school football at Oakdale Park Middle School.

Pivnick spent his 30s teaching English abroad – 18 addresses in 18 years, 12 outside Canada – and learned local languages because “everyone has a story and knowing enough of their language to hear it gives me a rush.” He speaks passable Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Spanish, French and German.

Pivnick says he liked the sound of the Africentric school as a bid to engage black students, despite claims it represented segregation. “The 40 per cent dropout rate among black children is just too huge, and anything that can help motivate kids more is worth trying,” he says. “And this school is open to all. It’s a school you can choose to attend, which is not segregation.” He donated $10,000 to the Toronto public board’s charitable foundation, which will generate two student prizes each year.

Offshore oil board members lack environmental expertise: researcher

A biologist and researcher is asking why none of the six men on the board regulating oil activity off Newfoundland lists environmental expertise as a prime credential , wrote The Canadian Press June 6 .

The head of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board has stressed that environmental protection is a top goal. But Gail Fraser, a professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, points out that the board members’ online biographies cite little or no related background. “They don’t have anybody on the board with environmental expertise that has voting capacity,” she said from Toronto. “They’re supposed to be regulating the environment.”

One of the six board members describes earning an unspecified science degree before joining the Newfoundland public service in 1969.

“None of them would know a good research design if it hit them in the head,” said Fraser, who is studying federal offshore regulations.

  • Fraser’s comments about the Canada Newfoundland-Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board were also reported on CKEC Radio (New Glasgow, NS) on June 6.

The great turf war

Court decisions in the 1920s and 1930s that found the provinces could regulate the securities industry were based on something that was then much more local in nature, noted Patrick Monahan, York vice-president academic & provost and constitutional law expert, wrote the National Post June 5.

A national securities regulator “is a natural evolution,” to oversee the present state of the capital markets. “It is a modest expansion of the trade and commerce power,” said Monahan.

Both Monahan and Ken Dickerson, project manager of the Centre for Constitutional Studies at the University of Alberta, agreed that referring the proposed legislation to the Supreme Court is prudent, to ensure that the changes are valid. “This way, everyone knows what the rules are,” said Monahan.

Long-lost purple martins are back in High Park

After an eight-year absence, North America’s largest swallow has returned to High Park, wrote the Toronto Star June 7.

Two pairs of purple martins, known for the purple-black feathers of mature males, are cohabiting in a colony house on the south edge of Grenadier Pond.

The birds are rare in southern Ontario, where populations have decreased by 46 per cent in the last 20 years. They feed on flying insects, and even one period of cold wet weather, when insects don’t fly, can lead to adult starvation in large numbers, says Bridget Stutchbury, Distinguished Research Professor in Biology in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, who studies North American songbirds and did her thesis on purple martins.

Stutchbury says it’s rare for the species to move into a new colony house because they usually return to one where they’ve previously nested and prefer to live with other pairs. The social nature of the bird could mean that more pairs will move into High Park. “The idea that they’d be able to repopulate, I think it’s exciting,” she says.

Although the creatures are admired for many reasons, there is one misconception about the species, says Stutchbury. The belief that martins have a voracious appetite for mosquitoes is a myth. “They might snatch the odd mosquito, but they’d much rather eat a nice juicy dragonfly,” she says. They also favour moths and butterflies. “Some people might think that they’re good insect control, but they’re mostly eating the kind of insects we might admire.”

  • Stutchbury’s work was also mentioned in a story about local birders in the Orillia Packet & Times June 7.

Dublin with the Doyles

It was around this time 25 years ago that I first went to Ireland, wrote former York student Dave Bidini in the National Post June 5 . I’d never been anywhere by myself before. I went because [former grad student John] Doyle, my old York University TA, told me to go, and because, if people in Ireland were anything like him, I knew things would be fine.

Doyle was funny, cool and laconic. He would recline in his chair in the classroom, chain-smoke Accords, and challenge his students to cut through whatever bullshit they’d absorbed while in the halls of academia. Once, Doyle asked us to comment on a lecture we’d heard on Doctorow’s Book of Daniel, given by another member of the faculty. Most students were over the moon in their praise, but I said nothing. After most of the class had spoken, Doyle took a long drag on his cigarette, eyed his students, and said, “Well, personally, I thought it was a piece of s—.” It was the first time I’d ever heard a teacher swear in class. When I confided in Doyle that I had a chance to go to Dublin, he told me not to think twice about it. “Just go,” he said. “And you can stay with my mom and dad.”

This month, two Doyles – John, who became the famous TV critic; and Roddy, author of The Commitments, as well as many other fine and much-honoured books – will begin tours for their new works. John’s book is about football/soccer – The World is a Ball: The Joy, Madness and Meaning of Soccer – and Roddy’s is the third in his Henry trilogy, called The Dead Republic.

Pan Am dispute referee is a York grad

He has a big reputation and yet is unknown; a man of great influence whose hand few people see; one who moves boldly but is chided by an admirer for being “charismatically challenged,” wrote The Hamilton Spectator June 5.

His new task is settling the dispute over where the Pan Am Games stadium – and new home for the Ticats – should be built in the city. The possible consequences of failure? Hamilton loses the games, a new stadium and, perhaps, even its venerable football team.

This, Michael Fenn (BA Hons. ’74), is your assignment: bridge the divide on the issue between Ticats owner Bob Young and Mayor Fred Eisenberger.

Oh yes, and do it quickly.

Concerns raised about effect on traditional arranged marriages

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) is reviewing its rules to crack down on marriages of convenience, and some fear arranged marriages may get lumped in with them , wrote The Hamilton Spectator June 7.

“You can’t come in and change a culture because you think something’s suspicious,” said Anisa Haq, of Hamilton, who studies arranged marriages at York University. “It (arranged marriages) really has nothing to do with sponsoring someone to come here. It has to do with finding the person you love.”

She said many Canadians don’t understand what arranged marriages are, so immigration officials should tread lightly on the issue.

Africa has chance to shine with World Cup

All the stars are aligned for Africa’s coming-out party, kicking off next week with the biggest of all parties, soccer’s World Cup, wrote Innocent Madawo in the London Free Press June 5 in an opinion piece analyzing the importance of the event to the world’s view of Africa.

It’s a view shared by people such as Jake Vanderkooy (BA Spec. Hons. 87, MA ’88), international affairs course director in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, wrote Madawao.