Recognized by the Learning Partnership as one of Canada’s 30 outstanding principals; Nova Scotian native Karen Hudson is the leading force behind Auburn Drive High School’s Afrocentric cohort. It’s a program that consists of the standard Canadian curriculum, with a twist.
Subjects include math and Canadian history, with hopes to expand the program to include English next year. The subjects infuse the lived experiences, contributions and culture of Black people into the curriculum requirements.
“The Afrocentric cohort was created to fill imbalances in the Canadian curriculum and to create a sense of belonging. Students need to feel comfortable in who they are and feel like they are a part of a system that is bigger than them,” says Hudson.
The twenty-four participants of the Afrocentric cohort are recruited in middle school, register in grade nine and begin the program in grade ten. Parents are well informed about the purpose of the program, which is to get more Black students into academic math courses like algebra and calculus. The students participate in a lot of teamwork and group activities, to learn how to benefit from the skills of their peers — reminding students that everyone has a place and purpose in society.
To incorporate lived experiences into the lesson plan students create and find solutions to their personal experiences. For example, when planning a school dance or saving for a present for Mother’s day, students incorporate budgeting and graphs into the planning. The students then take the information that is available to them to create algebra and geometry equations. Students learn how to solve complicated mathematical problems by relating it to their lived experiences and by working as a team.
There are high expectations for students in the Afrocentric cohort. Everyone is expected to stay in the academic streamline of the curriculum and maintain excellent grades. “I believe all students can learn and have the capabilities to learn, we may have to adjust our practices to bring out those capabilities, but it’s possible,” says Hudson. Allowing students to learn relevant and relatable information has increased their comprehension and self-confidence. “My dream has always been to help people make better decisions for themselves. Once people are given knowledge, they can make better decisions for themselves and their community.”
The Afrocentric cohort also includes black mentors who are professionals in their field and students in post-secondary school. “The mentors help the students become grounded in their social reality and help youth see representation at all levels.”
The students in the Afrocentric cohort created the logo for the program which includes a Sankofa bird, native to Ghana. The bird represents community, family, loyalty, and resilience. “The goals of the Afrocentric cohort are to uplift students and to change their outlook,” says Hudson. “I never had the opportunity to learn that my voice and my story mattered. Students in the program learn that they create their narrative and their legacy and that they can start creating it today.”
Hudson believes students should drive their learning, and is using their input to make improvements and changes to the program next year. She hopes to extend the Afrocentric cohort to grade eleven.
Hudson says the Afrocentric cohort program is not meant to segregate students, but to allow marginalized students to flourish within a system that was not created for them. Hudson says since winning the award, she has had an outpour of support from her community and a lot of calls and emails from all over the world, from schools and educators wanting to include an Afrocentric program into their schools. She plans on talking to her superiors to brainstorm ideas of how they can share the resources associated with the program.
The Afrocentric cohort has connected with the Afrocentric School in Toronto for activities and events and will continue to partner with organizations, professionals and educators that promote the positive representation of black people within the educational system.
Kezia Royer Burkett is a creative freelance writer with a degree in communications and multimedia from McMaster University. When she is not writing she is finding inspiration living life, raising her son and spending time with friends and family.
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