By Neil Armstrong
PRIDE Contributing Writer
MISSISSAUGA, Peel November 2, 2016 — The Peel District School Board (PDSB) is acting on a recently released report on the challenges facing black male students in its schools. It is planning to hold a stakeholder consultation before the winter break.
The report, “We Rise Together: Perspectives of Black Male Students in Secondary School – Understanding the Successes and Challenges,” was completed in September and released by the board in October.
The purpose of the project was to dig deeper into the educational experiences and perceptions of black youth in the PDSB.
In an effort to better understand the experiences of black male students, a series of focus groups were conducted to capture their perceptions of school, identify the successes and challenges they encounter while in school, and explore factors that impact their engagement and success.
In an attempt to obtain a wide range of experiences, the focus groups involved both successful and struggling black male students n Grades 10-12 attending nine schools across the Region of Peel – 87 students in total.
The findings indicate that black students desire change to occur within their classrooms and their schools.
They suggested implementing culturally responsive and relevant curriculum, respectful and supportive school staff who hold higher expectations of them, programs that support academic and social success, and equal opportunities to participate in activities that align with their interests.
“In order to fully address these areas, it may be helpful to consult with various stakeholder groups in schools and throughout their communities. Such groups can include school staff; parents/guardians of black students; and local networks, agencies, and advocacy groups that represent and support black communities throughout the Region of Peel,” says the report.
It said by sharing and discussing the focus group findings, and honouring the ideas of various stakeholder groups, “we can co-create a strong plan of action involving strategies and solutions designed to effectively address the academic, emotional, and social needs of black students in the Peel District School Board.”
Suzanne Nurse, Vice-Chair of the Board and PDSB Trustee Brampton Wards 2 & 6, says
in order to create a more inclusive school system, the Board will be looking at four focus areas: “engage with the community, deliver bias-free and anti-racism professional development, integrate the experiences of Black Canadians into the curriculum, and inspire black student leadership and engagement.”
Heeding the recommendation to co-create a strong plan of action to address the academic, emotional, and social needs of black students in the Peel District School Board, Nurse identified some possible participants.
“Some of the stakeholder groups the PDSB will partner with include the Black Community Action Network – Peel, United Achievers Club, United Achievers Community Services, Peel Association of African Canadian Educators, and United Way. This list is by no means exhaustive,” she said.
The Board would like to hold the stakeholder consultation before the winter break. Timelines for activities under the other focus areas are currently being determined.
One of the things the students disliked about school is the “minimal acknowledgement of Black History Month.”
The report said in some schools, the focus placed on Black History month is limited. “Examples include: (I) activities reflecting Black history are restricted to the end of the month, (2) Canadian Black history is not discussed, (3) only black students and black teachers help organize events and/or participate in the activities, and/or (4) teachers only focus on the contributions of Martin Luther King. Students also noted that Asian Heritage month receives far more attention by teachers and students than Black History month.”
Asked how the PDSB acknowledges Black History Month, Nurse said every year the Board hosts a student-focused event at the central office to celebrate Black History Month.
“It is the expectation that individual schools will also celebrate Black History Month. I have seen schools create displays of student artwork, organize student lead assemblies, and welcome guest speakers as a way to celebrate the month,” she said.
With regard to addressing this particular issue identified by the black male students, Nurse said: “Our focus area to integrate the experiences of Black Canadians into the curriculum, I believe, will help address this issue, not just regarding Black History Month, but throughout a student’s public school experience.”
One year ago, responding to matters arising from “VOICES of Ontario Black Educators: An Experiential Report” conducted by the Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators (ONABSE), Board Chair Janet McDougald said a gap analysis and report would be completed before the end of December 2015.
The VOICES report found that systemic anti-black racism was still entrenched in the education system “to the point where it not only hampers the hiring of black teachers, it also retains significant barriers in the promotion and advancement of black teachers, and has very serious repercussions within the classrooms.”
At that time, the PDSB was also mulling over the United Way report, F.A.C.E.S. of Peel Collaborative – “Fighting an Uphill Battle: Report on the Consultation into the Well-Being of Black Youth in Peel Region.”
Black youth in Peel reported feelings of isolation and marginalization in the public education system.
“It is our intention to review the reports and the recommendations in order to better understand what programs and interventions are already underway here in the Peel District School Board. Such a review is a standard part of what our equity-focused staff would do when such a report is issued,” said McDougald in a letter last year.
On November 5, Professor Carl James, Jean Augustine Chair in Education at York University, will hold a community consultation on black student success at the head office of the PDSB in Mississauga.