In search of Ms. Smith – the teacher who changed a York grad’s life

Rachel Pellett Gillette [BA Spec. Hons. ’09] read at a kindergarten level when she was in Grade 5, wrote the Toronto Star June 11. On Tuesday, the 25-year-old woman graduates summa cum laude in social work from York University [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies]. It’s her second diploma, after earning a specialized honours degree in psychology [Faculty of Health]. Along the way she won a string of academic scholarships to pay for school.

She says she owes her success, in large part, to Ms. Smith, the Grade 5 teacher at Scarborough’s Brooks Road Public School who gave up her recess and lunch breaks 15 years ago to read with Pellett Gillette.

“Every time I get a notice in the mail that another year is paid for, that for another year I’ve graduated at the top of my class, I always say: This is possible because (she) helped me catch up and taught me to love reading,” said Pellett Gillette. “When she taught me to read, it was like the world came alive.”

Pellett Gillette urgently wants to thank her old teacher. Finding her has been the problem. Ms. Smith got married and became Mrs. Cheng. Both Smith and Cheng are tremendously common names in Toronto. Where to start?

The York grad contacted the Star for help, saying she had tried for years to find her former teacher. “She changed my life completely,” she wrote, “and the award (graduating with the highest possible distinction) that is being given to me is really hers, and I just want so desperately for her to know.”

So, how did such a bright, capable student have so much trouble with reading?

There was no learning disability, just shyness and initial struggles. Her self-esteem flagged over the years at Brooks Road, to the point she felt ill with dread when books were opened and students were required to read aloud. “When I was in grade school and it was a reading day, I would be sick. Or I would go in the bathroom (to hide),” says Pellett Gillette.

So, what became of Ms. Smith/Mrs. Cheng? Luckily for another generation of Toronto students, she’s still teaching English within the Toronto District School Board. But that’s about all we know – as of deadline on Friday we hadn’t managed to arrange the magical meeting.

The Star did exchange a voice mail, and yes, Cheng does recall the girl of 15 years ago who eagerly lapped up the magic of books.

“She remembers me?” Pellett Gillette says, her voice breaking with emotion. “That means a lot, it really does.”

Augustine says wired generation ‘has us all guessing’

“I know it feels like you’ve crossed the finish line, but actually it’s more a threshold. Graduation marks a starting point, rather than the end of your academic studies,” wrote York honorary degree recipient Jean Augustine, the first black woman elected to Parliament, in her speaking notes for the convocation ceremony for York’s Faculty of Education. An excerpt of Augustine’s comments was published in the National Post June 11.

"Sorry to be the one to break the news to you…. You are the wired generation, born at the dawn of the World Wide Web. Technology has never been foreign to you.… It’s what you know. But, for the rest of us, it is all still ‘new’. You are a generation that has us guessing.”

Where are the 3-D masterpieces? Just wait

A credibility gap has emerged about 3-D’s potential to be the ultimate box-office draw, wrote The Globe and Mail June 10.

So is the shine really off 3-D? Catherine Owens directed 2008’s U2 3D, which sought to convey the grandness of a U2 concert on film and was billed as the first live-action digital 3-D film. She has since become one of the few directors known internationally as a 3-D specialist. (“Once you’ve worked in 3-D, it’s very hard to let go,” she says.) She will be among the guest speakers, along with German director Wim Wenders, himself a fan of 3-D filmmaking, at the International Stereoscopic 3D Conference being held at Toronto’s York University from Saturday to Tuesday.

“There are the people who want the instant, perfect result, and they live in the naysayer camp. If it doesn’t come out perfectly, they think it’s never going to work,” Owens says. “And then there are the technical people who are developing this unbelievable future for image-makers, and I’m siding with the technical people.”

The downside of winning a championship

In the long term, there’s evidence to suggest winning the championship is bad for business, wrote the Toronto Star June 11, in a story about winning in professional sports. Ownership can lose interest, or sell. Management can get lazy.

“It’s like collecting,” said Detlev Zwick, professor of marketing at the Schulich School of Business at York University. “The collector is enthralled with collecting, as long as the collection is not complete. As soon as the collection is complete, the collection loses its magical power. A complete collection is the worst thing that can happen.”

Still, the experts say, winning sells.

Zwick says a championship brings in new fans. “There might be something of a climax and a post-climax letdown: ‘Now we’ve done it, what’s next?’” said Zwick. “But championships tend to build and foster another generation of fans. Younger fans might get on the elevator of fan-dom, start watching the games on TV, getting into the players, then start to buy tickets. I would never say no to winning a championship.”

Schulich moves east

The Schulich School of Business at York University, is to open a campus in India, wrote The Economist June 10. It says that it is the first top-ranked Western university to have made such a leap. Schulich will offer its two-year MBA to 120 students in Hyderabad, along with executive education programs.

As an article in this week’s Economist shows, business schools are divided in their approach to conquering emerging education markets…. Many schools prefer to court partner institutions instead. This, though, provides its own problems, as schools have little control over the quality-control of their buddy school.

Governments oppose prostitution law changes

Ottawa and the provincial government will begin arguments to a five-justice panel today at the Ontario Court of Appeal on why a lower-court judge erred last year when she struck down three prostitution-related laws as unconstitutional, wrote Postmedia News June 13.

Currently, there are more than 30 lawyers involved in the case on behalf of two dozen women, civil-liberties and religious-based groups, who have been granted intervener status.

Yet York University Professor Alan Young [Osgoode Hall Law School], who represents Toronto dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford in the appeal, said the court has a straightforward task for the next five days, one that does not involve forecasting what may happen if the activities associated with prostitution become legal or what provisions should be put in their place. "For me, this case is about the present, not the future," he said. "There is no question that the court will need to make an informed decision, but I don’t see the sky falling as a result of it."

The panel’s mandate surrounds what extent laws should be responsible for making the sex trade dangerous. Anything outside of that realm, are issues that should be argued in the House of Commons rather than in a courtroom, said Young. "There has to be a causal connection established between state action and the law and the deprivation of security," he added.

"The obvious argument which emerges is that it’s not the law but it’s the psychopaths that prowl the streets who become bad johns. The law is not responsible for that. But what we were able to establish…that the three provisions do contribute to the situation by preventing sex-trade workers from accessing safer environments from which to work."

Two drugs, two prices; only the costly one is available

Despite the fact that Avastin has been shown in clinical trials to be as effective as the pricey Lucentis, it’s not covered by any health plan in Canada, wrote The Globe and Mail June 13. It’s also not approved by Health Canada to be used as a treatment against the wet form of macular degeneration.

In order for a drug to be approved by the federal government and included in provincial drug-coverage plans, the drug-maker must submit an application to Health Canada.

Roche, which sells Avastin in Canada, appears to have no intention of getting the drug approved as a macular-degeneration treatment here. The company also sells the much pricier Lucentis in the United States and licensed Novartis to sell it in Canada and elsewhere in the world. Both could lose a substantial amount of money if cheaper drugs are made available.

Critics say the situation highlights deep flaws in the way research is funded and the influence drug-makers can have over health-policy decisions.

To Dr. Joel Lexchin, professor in the School of Health Policy & Management at York University [Faculty of Health], the case demonstrates the power that drug companies have over health-policy decisions. "It’s not a question that Lucentis is a bad drug," Lexchin said. "It works. It’s good. It’s just economic exploitation."

Neuroscientist says bilingual kids have healthier brains

Ellen Bialystok, distinguished research professor of psychology at York University [Faculty of Health], said speaking two or more languages on a regular basis from a young age could have a positive effect on the brain, wrote India Express and a number of South Asian news websites June 12.

And not only does it enhance cognitive abilities, being bilingual can also delay symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, she said.

It turns out that something as ordinary as speaking a couple of languages reconfigures the brain network in a way that positively affects certain things that brains do, she said.

Bialystok and her team conducted their study at the Baycrest geriatric centre in Toronto, where they identified 200 clear cases of Alzheimer’s disease and looked at the patients’ backgrounds to see if they were mono- or bilingual.

The team looked at how old the patients were when their family noticed something was wrong and when they were formally diagnosed. In both cases the bilinguals were significantly older, by about four years.

Bialystok said it was possible that bilingualism protected the brain and they didn’t get Alzheimer’s disease earlier.

Bialystok has reasoned that bilinguals could cope with the disease better.

“My view is that late-life language learning is probably beneficial, not because of bilingualism but because learning a language is a stimulating mental activity and a good way to exercise your brain,” the Guardian quoted her as saying.

Act of preservation keeps Toronto’s past alive on film

In November, faced with storage and resource limitations, the Toronto Reference Library’s reference branch at Yonge and Bloor could no longer maintain its holdings of more than 4,000 16-millimetre films, wrote Eric Veillette in the Toronto Star June 10. Rarely circulated, the collection was offered to the media archive at York University, which also lacked the resources to maintain it.

When it was offered to Toronto International Film Festival programmer Colin Geddes – who years ago had saved hundreds of rare 35-millimetre Hong Kong films from a Toronto theatre – we tag-teamed on an ambitious project, securing storage space as well as an army of volunteers to help save an important film collection which could have ended up in the dumpster.

York University’s Kathryn Elder [head of Scott Library’s Sound & Moving Image Library] says the Reference Library’s collection – which contains educational films, NFB productions, Hollywood features and classic animation – was on par with the New York Public Library’s offerings. “It played a pivotal role in providing the public with access to important information on a multitude of topics,” says Elder, who selected nearly 100 titles from the catalogue, mainly films that are not available in other formats.

Canada the good?

So why have Canadian companies been so slow to get on board [and embrace the sorts of activities and initiatives generally associated with being good corporate citizens]?, asked Maclean’s magazine June 10.

Dirk Matten is a professor of strategy and the Hewlett-Packard Chair in Corporate Social Responsibility at York University’s Schulich School of Business [and director of the Centre of Excellence in Responsible Business]. He argues that, thanks to our well-established social welfare system, many Canadian companies haven’t seen a pressing need to become engaged in broader society. As an example, he pointed to Starbucks, one of the few US companies that receives high marks for its CSR efforts. The coffee giant’s website lists abundant information about its suppliers and what the company does for its employees. "It’s pretty impressive," he says.

As for why Europe, with its many welfare states, is so far ahead of the curve, Matten suggests the answer lies in the continent’s densely populated geography. When citizens live elbow to elbow with large corporations, there’s far more public pressure on firms to act like responsible members of the community – particularly on issues like the environment, which affect everyone.

In addition to leading the way on climate change, nearly two-thirds of EU companies publish regular CSR reports and lead in supply chain management and employee relations. By contrast, Canada’s relatively sparse population means many businesses face far less direct scrutiny. Resource companies tend to operate in remote regions, if not foreign countries, and the non-governmental organizations that rally public opinion in Europe generally have a smaller presence in Canada.

At the same time, the business world in Canada tends to be small and more insular, reinforcing long-held beliefs and familiar ways of doing things. "It’s more of a conventional approach – the deals you do over lunch as opposed to the big [NGO] campaigns," says Matten. "In continental Europe, I would say 95 per cent of companies do this stuff because they have to."

Peterborough’s Mr. Baseball

Steve Terry [BA ’73] never set a goal as to what he wanted to accomplish as a baseball coach, wrote Peterborough This Week June 10, in a story about his impending retirement. But in order to be a good coach, he felt he needed learn more about the game.

"When I first started coaching, I read (books on baseball) extensively; I read everything I could get my hands on even though there wasn’t much out there at that time," explains Terry, born and raised in Toronto. "I studied hard, as hard as I could, to learn as much as I could about baseball."

That dedication led him to become one of the most respected skippers in the country, representing the Canadian national team on eight occasions.

The 67-year-old has coached at one level or another over the last 35 years. Highlights include a bronze medal with Team Canada at the World University Games, a provincial junior title in 1979 and a bantam AAA Ontario championship in 1994. Currently, he is an assistant coach with the senior RiverDogs.

Terry knows a thing or two about dealing with people, having graduated from York University with an honours degree in psychology before working at the Whitby Psychiatric Hospital for 26 years.

"It has been helpful in coaching ball because psychology is a huge part of sport. It is more important to me that our players develop as good citizens and happy individuals," explains Terry, a former scout with the Major League Scouting Bureau and assistant scout with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Winning dancer-choreographer nominated York dancer for his award

David Earle was shocked to speechlessness after winning the Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts at a gala in Toronto Thursday, wrote the Guelph Mercury June 11.

[In addition] Robert Kingsbury [BFA Spec. Hons. ’06], a dancer with Dancetheatre David Earle, won the Premier’s Award for New or Emerging Individual Talent.

Earle nominated Kingsbury, who is a dancer, choreographer, musician, composer and filmmaker. "He has such enormous promise and a bright spirit. He’s original," Earle said. "These people pop into your life and it’s very refreshing."

Kingsbury, 26, said he never aspired to be a dancer. His degree is in piano performance and composition from York University, but it was there that he was introduced to dance and film. Now he integrates it all into multidisciplinary work.

Help others, judge tells grads

Justice Susan Lang graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1974 and was called to the bar in 1976, wrote The Sault Star June 13, in a story about her honorary doctorate from Algoma University. She practised law in Toronto, mostly family law, before becoming a judge in 1989. She was just 38.

"While initially I thought that his job was not the kind of job I would like, I was persuaded by [my father] and by my mother that I ought to follow a career path," said Lang, 60. "Law happened to be the one I turned out to be pretty good at."

Retired Fort Erie library CEO to be honoured

Gord Thomson [MBA ’81], 60, stepped down from his post as chief executive officer of the Fort Erie Public Library earlier this year, wrote Niagara This Week June 10. He will be honoured by friends and colleagues Sunday, June 12 at 1pm at the Bridgewater Golf Club. Thomson was CEO in Fort Erie since 1998.

He chuckled over that auspicious start to his career. “Many great ideas come over a beer,” Thomson said.

Thomson started his career as a library technician with the North York Public Library in 1975. Wanting to advance into library management, Thomson enrolled in the Master of Business Administration program at York University, graduating in 1981. It launched his career with the North York board that saw him progress through a series of management position.

York grad turns from tech writing to fiction

"I was amazed at how the kids went ‘oooh’ and ‘aaaaah’ and laughed out loud. I decided right then I was going to be a writer."

Gordon Graham [BA ’95] was in Grade 3 when he made that decision, wrote The Sault Star Jun 13.

Forty-some years later, after what he calls "a few million words of commercial bumpf," he’s getting a shot at working full-time on a novel. It’s all thanks to the Ontario Arts Council and the Writers’ Works-in-Progress grant.

Graham submitted pages from his unfinished novel, King and Queen, to the Arts Council last December, to a special grant competition strictly for Northern Ontario writers. In April he learned that he’d won one of 10 grants awarded by a jury of fellow writers. That money will let him put aside his commercial work for several months to complete King and Queen.

Graham…went on to Toronto’s York University, after which he worked in the publishing field. One of the original owners/founders of NOW magazine, Toronto’s alternative weekly, Graham was the paper’s first managing editor in 1981.

Governor General’s Award-winner coming to York

Among highlights of Friday’s activities [at convocation ceremonies at the University of British Columbia] is the awarding of the Governor General’s Gold Academic Medal to Ruth Emily Brown, who has the highest College of Graduate Studies academic achievement with a 92 per cent average, wrote Kelowna, BC’s Jun 10.

Not only did Ruth Brown complete the human kinetics program for her master’s degree ahead of schedule, she did it with an astounding 92 per cent average.

Brown…is starting her PhD at York University this fall, meaning another four years in the classroom where she will study health and fitness behaviour.

Brown is co-author of a research paper published in 2009 and among her current grants and projects, holds a Canadian Graduate Scholarship award from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Her master’s thesis research was in the area of neuromuscular physiology. Specifically, it examines the differences in motor unit activity (nerve-muscle interaction) between men and women, and how it influenced their ability to maintain a steady isometric contraction with the elbow flexor muscles.

York student wins athlete of the year award in Halton

Taking up the sport of judo in 2000, Nicole Jenicek joined the Full Circle Judo Club in 2009, wrote June 10.

The current No. 1 ranked junior in Canada in the under-20, 57-kilogram division, Jenicek is ranked third on the senior national team. She is eligible to compete at the U-20 Canadian championships in Quebec next month. She hopes to win in Quebec and, long-term, represent Canada at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto.

In addition to studying kinesiology at York University, Jenicek volunteers as an instructor and is a [National Coaching Certification Program] certified coach.

Baycat is back and studying at York

Being strong up the middle of the field in baseball is a defensive asset, wrote the Orillia Packet & Times June 13. And with shortstop Jeff Cowan back in the fold, the Barrie Baycats are reaping the benefits.

While Cowan enjoyed [playing baseball in the US], he received an opportunity outside of baseball that brought him back north. "I got into teachers college at York University [Faculty of Education], so I couldn’t pass that up," said Cowan, who completed his bachelor of education degree earlier this spring. "I was very happy to get in."