Category Archives: Community

Issues that affect Jane-Finch.

Don’t waste that time!

It’s true! Sometimes, some of us do know what we’re talking about!

Our book, “Voices Matter,” consists of people’s thoughts and opinions. When it came to the topic of youth violence, one of our members was quoted thusly (on page 48):

“If we’re looking for long term answers to the issue of youth violence, I think we need to demand more from our schools. Because children spend so much time at school, that’s where they can build their self-esteem, nurture their skills, develop their minds.”

“The school has a child for six or seven hours a day, ten months a year, and that’s a big chunk of time that can be used to counteract negative influences.”

That’s easy to say, coming from a layperson (and he knows who he is).

So take a look at what an expert has to say:

“Whatever he’s going home to, you can do the kid a heck of a lot of good six hours a day, five days a week, nine months a year … We tie our hands behind our backs when we focus primarily on things about which we can do nothing.”

The expert is Ross Greene, an American psychologist who has developed a disciplinary method that is the subject of an article in this month’s Mother Jones magazine (link posted at the end of this article).

The premise is simple: when a child mishaves, talk with him/her to figure out the reason(s) behind the behavior. Once it’s pinpointed, work with the child to develop alternative ways to deal with it next time. Sometimes, it’s no more than a child acting out because of hunger. The solution? Give them a snack.

When the child gets to discover the motivation behind their action, and develop a plan to modify it, they are rewiring their brain to act differently in the future.

This goes contrary to the belief that the only “reward” for misbehavior is punishment, but it’s tough to argue with results.

Two juvenile detention facilities adopted Greene’s methods, over the objections of staff. Both institions saw a dramatic decline in incidents, injuries (to staff and youth), and recidivism (youth returning to the institutions).

The article goes on to show how this method is working in a Maine classroom. Spoiler alert: it’s working quite well.

Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help think that this method might be useful in our own schools. How are the schools dealing with disruptive behavior now? Doesn’t this method seem like it could produce better results?

Comments are welcome!

Here’s the link to the article:

Mother Jones article: “What If Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids Was Wrong?”

Homeless in Jane and Finch

I just found an article that gives some insight into how youth can fall between the cracks. Naomi Nichols was researching community safety in the Jane-Finch area. She hired a sixteen year old resident as a youth researcher. Over the course of the project, this youth became homeless.

Many of the circumstances faced by this youth could take place anywhere in Toronto, but the second paragraph has particular relevance to Jane-Finch. This is where Ms. Nichols mentions how neighbourhoods like Jane-Finch are divided into area with boundaries that few youth dare cross.

The author concludes that this story “illustrates some of the interplay between housing and homelessness, education, youth justice, family dynamics, and community safety.”

It is certainly worthwhile reading for anyone interested in these subjects. Click here to read the original article

Jane-Finch mini-documentary

And now for something a little different.

This is a mini-documentary about Jane and Finch, produced by a Ryerson student, Eunice Kim. I believe it aired on the Ryerson radio station.

“I tried to capture the spirit of Jane and Finch and its amazing people through the power of radio,” wrote Eunice in her description of the clip.

She did this by talking to members of a certain Jane-Finch community group. Yes, this means you get to hear me mangle my words a few times during the course of this recording. It turns out that I’ve got a voice made for silent movies.

Obviously, I can’t really be too objective about this mini-documentary. Having admitted that, I think it’s quite polished and worth a listen.

If you like what you hear, this mini-doc was nominated for an upper-year award at Ryerson. Show Eunice your appreciation by voting for it here.

How to improve our children’s reading and writing skills?

Here is some interesting news concerning childhood literacy and education.

On February 24, 2015, there was a press conference held in Toronto to present the results of a Model School project. The Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative (MAEI) sponsored the cost of teacher training by the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) for schools located at Walpole Island and Kettle and Stony Point First Nations in Ontario.

The program started by training the teachers how to properly instruct reading and writing. The project schools then set up a ninety minute period at the start of every day dedicated to reading and writing.

The pilot program started in 2010, and cost about 1.5 million dollars to run until it ended in 2014. Close to five hundred students from kindergarten to Grade 6 participated.

The results were eye-opening. Prior to the program, only 33 per cent of third grade students at these schools met or exceeded provincial standards for writing. Four years later, 91 per cent of Grade 3 students had met or exceeded those standards. Compare this to Ontario-wide results, where 70 percent of Grade Three students meet or surpass those standards.

OISE’s Dean Julia O’Sullivan said “the results were phenomenal by any stretch of the imagination.”

It is curious that a key component of the program was to train teachers how to properly teach reading and writing. Is this just a problem with teachers at those particular schools?

One wonders because Grade 3 results for ten schools located in the Jane-Finch area show that only six schools have 70 percent of students meeting or exceeding the standard in either reading or writing. Three schools meet the 70 percent standard for both.

What accounts for the differences? Is it a question of how various teachers have been trained? A question of how resources are shared between schools within the same area? If this pilot project was brought into these Jane-Finch schools, would we see the same “phenomenal” results?

Eliminate Food Banks!

In our book, “Voices Matter,” the subject of food banks is mentioned:

“Look at the Food Bank – now you can’t choose what you want, they give you prepackaged bags … people don’t use everything because it’s not what they like.  A lot of the cans are dented.  People don’t want dented cans because the inside of the cans are coated with chemicals …  The Food Bank gives you what they have.”

There are a host of issues that go with any food bank.  This includes collecting and storing the food, finding people to manage and distribute the operation, and the lack of choice – as mentioned above.  When you go to a food bank, you take what they give you.

How can food banks be improved?

Maybe the best improvement would be to get rid of food banks altogether.

There was a recent article in the Toronto Star (link provided below) that describes a program set up in Woodstock, Ontario.   In a nutshell, “Food for Friends” uses cash donations to fund gift cards that can be used to buy groceries.

Recipients ate able to choose whatever non-taxable items they want.  This program seems to eliminate most, if not all, of the issues with food banks.

As I read the article, I thought that this sounds a lot like a version of the American food stamps program.   Why aren’t we adopting this for use in all our communities that need it?  Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Here’s the article:

The Voluntary Sector

We put together our book, “Voices Matters”, for a number of reasons. One reason was to bring up issues and concerns related to our community. Now that our book is published and available for sale (not too subtle a plug, is it?), we’re looking for answers and information.

The role of government and providing services was mentioned on pages 154 to 156 (yes, another shameless plug). Michelle Dagnino, the Executive Director of the Jane/Finch Community and Family Centre has written a great article on this topic. I’ll post the link at the end of this post.

In the interests of transparency, I am a member of the Centre’s Board of Directors. I have heard Ms. Dagnino make many of these points at various times. She pulls them all together in this article, which saves me the trouble of collecting and transcribing the scribbles I’ve made listening to her.

The article opens by explaining the importance of the voluntary sector, and how this sector is being hard hit by government cutbacks.

Once she outlines the problems and challenges facing the sector, Ms. Dagnino offers three suggestions to improve the situation. And they are great suggestions. They are so great that I will not summarize them here, but instead urge you to read the article.

Before I present the link, let me toss in my two cents. I agree with every suggestion made. The only suggestion I would add is that in order to bring any of this to fruition, we need to get people engaged and putting pressure on all levels of government. I think a key function of the voluntary sector is to pull people into their communities, and give them a greater sense of purpose. They need to know the issues, and how to make their voices matter.

And with that last shameless plug out of the way, here’s the link:

Not Newsworthy

One of the main reasons Jane-Finch On The Move was formed was to change the media perception of our community. Bad enough that “Jane-Finch” had become a code word for “bad neighbourhood”, but it seemed that the only time the media noticed Jane-Finch was when something bad happened. And nothing got attention like a shooting.

When JFOTM held a neighbourhood forum in September 2007, we were surprised that various members of the media attended. As Chair, I had to deal with microphones and raised pencils. Why the turnout? There had been a shooting nearby only a few days earlier.

We would hold two more forums over the next year or so. Fortunately for the neighbourhood, there weren’t any shootings in the days beforehand.  Unfortunately for us, no media appeared.

I mention this because I got an email from a friend and JFOTM member a few days ago. She now lives in the Lawrence Avenue West-Allen Road area (Lawerence Heights). She was concerned that there had been three shootings in her neighbourhood within the past few weeks, plus a neighbourhood man had been shot and killed while out in Hamilton.

I wanted more information, so I got to Googling. One of the shootings happened on Neptune Drive.  Using “Neptune Drive”, I found a number of news accounts going back to 2007. This included the 2010 murder of a 16 year old boy who was killed by three other 16 year olds. A 46 year old man was shot when standing in the lobby of a Neptune Drive building last August.

When I changed the search to “Lawrence Heights”, most of the results were about the July 2014 shooting death of Abshir Hassan. He was a substitute teacher who died going out to move his car. Police reports indicated he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. This death made the front pages at the time.

How about all those other shootings? I found a Globe and Mail article titled “Toronto’s New Murder Capital”, which was about the spate of murders in an area that included this section of Lawrence Avenue. It was written in 2009.

The point is that while I knew Lawrence Heights was a “rough area”, I didn’t know it was like this. Back when Jane-Finch seemed to be a “Murder Capital”, every death made the front pages.

Now it’s only newsworthy if the victim is very young, or is “not targeted.” Otherwise, it gets stunted to the back pages, if mentioned at all.

Does this mean we are getting used to gun violence? Does this mean we are willing to let select areas of our city slowly drift into a lawless state where bullets rule and people cower in fear?

Toronto is still seen as one of the safest cities in the world, with The Economist calling us Number One.  I guess it’s all relative. How safe does my friend feel living near Neptune Drive?

There are no easy solutions to the scourge of gun violence. This shouldn’t mean we give up trying.