Former student finds beloved teacher at her convocation

Rachel Pellett Gillette’s search for Ms. Smith, the Grade 5 teacher who taught her to read, ended – surprisingly – on York University’s convocation stage Tuesday before nearly 600 graduates, wrote the Toronto Star June 15.

“This is like a dream come true,” an emotional Pellett Gillette [BA Spec. Hons. ’09, BSW ’11] told her former Brooks Road Public School instructor after the convocation ceremony in the [Rexall Centre]. “I just wanted to thank you for all you did for me.”

Fifteen years ago, the teacher gave up her lunch and recess breaks to work one-on-one with the shy Scarborough student. The girl struggled with reading books normally used by much younger students – but the teacher deflected Pellett Gillette’s praise. “You’re very kind, Rachel, but you did all the work.”

The Star found Sara Cheng through retired teachers who’d worked at the Scarborough grade school. Cheng, 41, is on staff at Jackman Avenue Public School and she and Pellett Gillette began exchanging e-mails Friday.

They planned to meet at Tuesday’s convocation. However, York brass saw Pellett Gillette’s story in Saturday’s Star, and unbeknownst to her, invited Cheng to sit on stage with a large group of University professors and dignitaries to personally congratulate the social work grad.

Cheng initially refused, saying, “It’s Rachel’s moment and she already shared so much with me.” York Vice-President Academic & Provost Patrick Monahan was gently insistent, saying it was common to invite guests with special connections to a student on stage.

Afterward, with Pellett Gillette and her husband Andrew Gillette [BA Hons. ’10] – a York grad – listening, Cheng said her former student reminded her of why she loves her career.

“To have a child who wanted help and who let me help her, it’s one of the reasons I remember Rachel and remember her as special,” said Cheng, noting some students consider extra work during recess and lunch breaks as punishment, not learning opportunities.

“When you get a story like Rachel’s, it’s like, ‘Oh yes, this is why I do this. This is why I’m teaching.’”

  • In other stories about York’s Spring Convocation 2011, graduating students Christina Silva and Marcia Monteiro spoke about their accomplishment on CFMT-TV’s “Telejornal” Portuguese news June 14.

York’s lake doctor urges cottagers not to clean up their forests

While Haliburton County’s lakes may appear clear, clean and pristine, they are actually fighting a secret battle for survival, wrote The Minden Times June 14.

That was the message from York University biology professor and Muskoka cottager Norman Yan [Faculty of Science & Engineering] when he spoke to attendees of the annual general meeting of the Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners Associations at the Stanhope Firefighters Community Hall [in Carnarvon] on June 11.

Declining calcium levels are a serious detriment to lake health.

"None of us think about calcium very much unless you have osteoporosis," Yan said. "Lakes can get osteoporosis too."

One of the tiny creatures being affected by declining calcium levels serves a hugely important purpose. Daphnia are microscopic, transparent crustaceans.

The animals, which Yan refers to as "little living lawnmowers," crush up algae with their tiny mouths. The daphnia in any lake will filter that lake’s entire water supply every seven to 10 days or so and are vital to maintaining an ecosystem that many other species depend upon.

"Lakes get the leavings of the land," he said. By clearing properties of vegetation and removing deadfall, people are actually contributing to the environment’s calcium deficiency. "For God’s sake, don’t tidy your watersheds," Yan said, urging people to let nature do what it will with their properties and leave forest materials in the forest.

NDP leaving ‘socialism’ behind – in new policy manual

New Democrats are preparing to cast off the shackles of the socialist label by eliminating the word from the federal party constitution at a policy convention this weekend, wrote the Toronto Star June 15.

James Laxer, a political science professor at York University [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies] who once ran for the NDP leadership and was part of the socialism-based “Waffle” faction in the late 1960s and early 1970s, said the shift to the centre has been going on for decades. “Like other social democratic parties in the West, the NDP has adopted much of the outlook of the neo-liberalism that is the dominant ideological strain in the market-centred era of globalization,” Laxer wrote in an e-mail Tuesday, adding this has its pros and cons.

“The NDP has been able to challenge the Liberals as a less corrupt, more principled and somewhat more progressive party that occupies centre-left ground,” said Laxer, but added that in order for the NDP to become truly progressive, it needs to espouse policies that aim to close the widening gap between the rich and the poor in Canada.

“If it fails, it will be little more than the new Liberals,” said Laxer, although one of the proposed resolutions is for the party to formally reject any proposals to merge with the Liberal party.

York soccer Lion invited to play at FISU

North Toronto Collegiate graduate Sotiri Varlokostas will be reunited with some familiar faces this summer when he represents Canada at the 26th Federation Internationale du Sport Universitaire (FISU) in Shenzhen, China, wrote June 14.

Varlokostas, entering his third year in the fall with York University’s reigning national champion men’s soccer team, was announced to the team recently and will get his first taste of international competition at the 16-team tournament. The tournament runs from Aug. 11 to 22.

For the record, the 19-year-old Canadian Soccer League SC Toronto (formerly Portugal FC) standout has already cracked a national team line-up. He was called up and played half an exhibition game in March as a third string goalkeeper for the under-20 team.

He saw considerable action with his York Lions this past season, stepping in to replace the Lions’ starting keeper, Alim Karim. The East York native will be joined on the FISU team by four other members of the York Lions program: forward Adrian Pena, defenders Dominic Antonini and Jamaal Smith and midfielder Ilya Orlov.

"I was delighted. This was one of my goals, to make the team. I’m glad I’ve been given the opportunity," said Varlokostas, calling the four other York athletes named to the FISU team "like family".

York University coach Carmine Isacco who also coaches the U20 team in March and coaches the 19-year-old keeper with SC Toronto, can claim most of the credit for introducing Varlokostas to the national program.

Isacco predicts the young keeper will be just as valuable to Canada in China. "He knows what it takes to play at that level," said the coach, York’s Coach of the Year for 2010. "He’s an incredible human being and he fits the York mould to a tee," he added. "When he comes into a room it’s not ‘what can you do for me’ it’s ‘what can I do for you.’"

Osgoode grad joins faculty of new BC law school

Janna Promislow [LLM ’04] is an expert in First Nations law, wrote the Kamloops Daily News June 14, in a story about her appointment to the new law school at Thompson Rivers University in BC. She holds degrees from the University of Alberta, University of Victoria, York University (LLM and PhD candidate). Promislow taught at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School and the University of Alberta, where she served as executive director of the Centre for Constitutional Studies, and UVic.

New TCHC board heavier on corporate experience

As the Toronto Community Housing Corporation ponders the sale of its 928 single-family homes, it will probably be governed by a board of directors heavier than the last board on corporate and real estate experience, and lighter on experience working with the poor, wrote the Toronto Star June 15.

City council is scheduled to vote on the citizen nominees to the board Wednesday.

Bud Purves, who was recommended as chair, is president of the York University Development Corp. He also sits on the board of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

Project looks at digital culture in Toronto highrises

What is the relationship between virtual social networks and the geography of suburbs? asked filmmaker Katerina Cizek in a story for June 14 about her documentary HIGHRISE. What does this mean for the future of a (sub)urban planet?

These are questions I have been fascinated with since beginning HIGHRISE, and we were starting to get some early answers last week, as we begin production on our HIGHRISE Digital Citizenship Project. It’s a unique collaboration between our HIGHRISE team, residents in a Toronto highrise, and a team of academic researchers, led by Professor Deborah Cowen and Emily Paradis, PhD, and connected to the Global Suburbanisms: Governance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century MCRI project at York University.

The Standard noted that Global Surburbanisms is a seven-year international research project funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada and led by principal investigator Roger Keil, director of the City Institute at York University (CITY).

On air

  • Marcus Boon, English professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, and author of a book on the benefits of plagiarism, spoke critically about a plagiarized speech by the dean of medicine at the University of Alberta, on CBC Radio June 14.
  • Justice John Vertes [LLB ’75], senior judge for the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories and a graduate of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, spoke about his career in the north, on CBC Radio in Yellowknife June 14.
  • Professor Francoise Mougeon, associate principal academic & research at York’s Glendon College, spoke about Ontario’s plans to offer more French immersion programs in schools, on Radio Canada Toronto June 14.
  • Fred Lazar, economics professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about the Air Canada strike, on CBC Radio June 14.
  • Penny Dowedoff, a PhD student in sociology at York studying reproductive tourism, spoke about the documentary Google Baby, on ichannel TV June 14.