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.
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.
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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: