In my younger, some would say wilder days, I spent a lot of time in the Queen and Spadina area of downtown Toronto. This was in the Nineties, back before it turned into the equivalent of an outdoor mall. Back when it was cool. And yet despite all the time I spent there, in my questionable outfits and ever-changing rainbow of hair colours, I had no idea who or what shared an alley just north of it, with the staff from The Rivoli catching a smoke break and the roadies unloading gear for bands playing at The Horseshoe.
It’s a tiny school by Toronto standards with just over two hundred students, but it’s one of the oldest in the city. The original Phoebe Street School was built there in 1855, then replaced in 1957 by the one pictured here which houses fourteen classrooms, a library and gymnasium that doubles as both a lunchroom and performance venue for the annual Holiday and Spring Concerts. Despite the school’s small size, it has a large impact on the community around it. The kids all know each other, regardless of their age or grade. The teachers know them by name as well. They hold monthly character assemblies, where they hand out awards to those students who’ve exhibited such traits as Honesty, Integrity, and Empathy. It makes for a great atmosphere. An interesting one, too, when you consider that most of the students – roughly eighty percent – are from nearby Chinatown where English is not their spoken language. For some, this is their first school experience in Canada and with the language in general. Imagine how difficult it must be, being placed in a completely foreign environment where you struggle to understand what’s being communicated around you? It’s hard enough to be a kid in the city, let alone to have that additional pressure. Luckily for them, Ogden takes a positive and proactive approach to this challenge, using it as an opportunity to introduce Chinese culture and language such as Cantonese to all students in grades one through four as part of the TDSB International Languages integrated day program. It seems to help everyone understand one another a little better.
But there is one place where it doesn’t really matter where you come from or what language you speak, and that’s on the playground. And as wonderful a school environment as Ogden is able to provide for its students, the one thing they cannot control is how little green space they have for the kids to play. They’ve done the best they could with what space they have, but here are a couple shots of what the school playground looks like now.
Better than nothing at all, to be sure. But think back to when you were a kid. I was somewhat spoiled by growing up in the country with what seemed like an endless fields of green and enough room for two outdoor climbing gyms as well as a football field and baseball diamond. I realize that not everyone was lucky enough to have that, especially a kid going to school in the city. But I think you’ll agree with me that these kids – all kids, really – deserve a bit better than a climbing dome and some rocks. And then there is the issue of safety. There is some fencing, but for the most part the space is wide open for people not associated with the school to pass through during non-school hours, to take their dogs for a pee or sit and smoke or drink from brown paper bags despite the No Trespassing signs or common decency telling them that they shouldn’t. So what’s stopping the school from taking out some pavement and laying down some more lawn? The same thing that prevents the rest of us from doing the things we most want – money. Small schools equal smaller budgets, and a smaller base for fundraising. And if you’re at all familiar with the budget struggles of the TDSB, you’ll know that money for these ‘extras’ is non-existent, especially when you’re the tiny schoolfish in the giant pond of Toronto schools. But the school council and parent volunteers are very active and have done a fantastic job in launching the Ogden Playground Project: Beautiful Place, Beautiful Space
and to date have raised about $6000. Their goal is $10k, however, and this school year is almost over. So they’re in need of that extra little nudge to help get them up and over the top and hopefully on track for some groundbreaking celebrations come this September.
Now you may be wondering why I should care – I don’t live in Toronto anymore. It doesn’t affect me. Well, on the contrary, it does in a very real way. My son has gone to this school for the past four years, and is currently finishing out his year there. In that time, I’ve watched him thrive into the confident, caring little man he is today and although I could try to take credit for it with my excellent parenting skills (cough, cough) I know for a fact that it’s largely because of his experience at Ogden. He absolutely loves his school, and he’s very sad to leave it. With that in mind, I’m writing this post in hope of raising at least some awareness to their cause, if not some much needed funds or perhaps even a little corporate sponsorship (Rona, Lowe’s and Home Depot, I’m looking at you!). Feel free to reblog, linkback, Tweet, Facebook… anything you’re willing and able to do to get the word out would be very much appreciated.
More information about the project and the school can be found online here. Or if you’ve read enough and just want to know where to send the cheque (wouldn’t that be nice!) then it can be made payable to Ogden Junior Public School with Playground Project written in the memo and mailed to the attention of Tomoko Barker at the school’s address:
33 Phoebe Street
Toronto, Ontario M5T 1A8
Please note, this is quite out of character for me to be so bold as to make a call to action. I’m not very good at asking for things or drawing attention to myself. But considering that’s kind of the whole point to this blog to begin with, to get me out of my comfort zone and try to make change happen, I suppose it’s somewhat fitting.