Toronto District School Board unveils inner city vocal academy

Toronto District School Board superintendent Karen Falconer spoke passionately tonight at a gathering of interested parents and curious onlookers at Ryerson Community School, which sits at the intersection of some of the Toronto’s most diverse and creative communities, between Kensington Market and Queen St. West.

The school is one of two sites — the other one is Heather Heights Junior PS in Scarborough — that the  board has chosen for vocal academies that will welcome new students from anywhere in the city to Grades 4, 5 and 6 in September.

Falconer told the parents how she fought to have this type of school at the city’s core because she was concerned how the faces on Toronto’s stages still do not reflect the broad cultural mix of the city’s neighbourhoods immediately bordering those stages.

“I want to see the faces in this room on those stages in 20 years,” she said.

Falconer, like school principal Craig Tsuji and vice-principal Mark Bell, are committed to have at least one full class in each of the three grades. The focus on vocal music will permeate the children’s entire school day.

Music is placed at the core of an integrated teaching model at the school

The Vocal Academy will teach all the usual curriculum, but will supplement it with 4 hours of music teaching a week, some of it integrated into the standard disciplines of math, English, social studies and history.

Toronto District School Board music coordinator Diane Jamieson was also there to inspire parents, quoting a 2000 study of 25,000 school children in Chicago that showed how those who were involved in music consistently scored better in all academic areas. As she pointed out, this is nothing new.

But these facts take a long time to percolate through a large, diverse and oftentimes cash-squeezed public school system.

In conversation afterward, Bell explained that, besides all the other benefits, the Vocal Academy will offer all children, not just boys, the excellence of attending a place like St. Michael’s Choir School, while also not tying both parents and children to a weekly church mass schedule.

Faulkner said the board is absolutely committed to the Vocal Academy, but that staffing and resources will be allocated based on how many children are registered by Feb. 28. Higher numbers will mean a better overall programme.

This is a golden opportunity for children of all backgrounds to get a taste of the spirit of collaboration, community and aesthetic fulfillment that goes with making music, without parents needing to incur any extra costs.

Please, pass the word along.

The next information meeting is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 23.

For more information, click here.

To further inspire, here is some hand-held video of the children choristers and the All City Orchestra of the Toronto District School Board at its Spring Festival at Massey Hall in 2010, singing “Why We Sing,” by Greg Gilpin:


7 thoughts on “Toronto District School Board unveils inner city vocal academy

  1. Well done, this is so important and forward thinking! Bravo! And thanks to Canadian Soprano Simone Osborne for sharing a link about this on Twitter.
    I shall also post about this on my Blog Business of the Arts and here is a link:

  2. Thank you, John, for coming to our Parent Information Night and for taking the time to write about the excitement that is building in the TDSB around the Vocal Music Academies.
    The next Parent Information Night at The Vocal Music Academy @ Ryerson Community School is indeed scheduled for:
    Thursday February 23, 2012 – 7:00 p.m.
    at Ryerson Community School – 96 Denison Ave. (just west of Spadina Ave. on Dundas St.)

  3. This is so exciting. Especially because I was a vocal music teacher at Ryerson until my retirement in 1994.
    John Allin.

  4. Absolutely wonderful to see! What an opportunity for those children…. and for the rest of the world to see what having the opportunity to learn music in a meaningful and integrated way can do for children. Well done!

  5. I am so excited to see the Vocal Music program in the TDSB expand to this stage. Our students will be extended so much in so many areas. Looking forward to viewing the program.

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