Danforth Schools Coming Up Short

For years, high schools in the Danforth area have been suffering from a reputation for inadequacy.

“Our teachers used to joke with us,” says Kate Doyle, a former student from the Beaches, “Don’t be stupid or you’ll get sent to Danforth Tech. Or Monarch Park, that one was bad too.”

Statements like this are common, and while it seems unfair to discount a school on the basis of hearsay, one has to wonder if there is any truth to the jokes and gossip. As it turns out, it depends who you ask.

Report Card Blues

Each year the Fraser Institute publishes its Ontario Secondary Schools Report Card. An assessment of Ontario high schools, the Report Card uses the average scores from the grade nine province-wide math examination and the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) to rank schools across the province out of ten. For the past five years, the Report Card has shown Danforth schools coming up short.

Eastern Commerce fared the worst of the schools near the Danforth with an overall score of 0.6 out of 10. This score is alarming, but can be better understood when you consider the situation of many students who attend Eastern Commerce.

“[It’s] a school that kids come to from far and wide because they want to or they have to,” says Eastern Commerce principal Sam Miceli, “It’s probably the third, fourth, fifth school for some kids because they are no longer welcome in their home schools. We get a lot of students with gaps in their learning.” Despite these obstacles, Eastern Commerce is determined to find success for its students.

Sleep Deprived Students

Research has shown that students need more sleep during adolescence than at any other point, yet few are actually getting it due to the irregular secretion of melatonin (a sleep-regulating hormone) in the bodies of teenagers. While melatonin is usually released early in the evening in the average adult body, during adolescence it is secreted around 11 p.m.

This means that teens are incapable of falling asleep until late at night and, because they must rise early for school, they are forced to wake up before their bodies have rested.

Principal Miceli recognizes the effect this can have on a student’s academic success. “If you’re staying up late, you’re groggy. You’re dealing with traffic, [then] you’re late and you know you might get hassled [for it]. Why not just cut class? Or if they come to class, their heads are on the table. They’re dormant,” he says.

Start Late, Get Ahead

In an effort to combat sleep deprivation, Eastern Commerce introduced a late start program—whereby school starts an hour later so that students arrive rested and ready to learn. A year after the program was initiated, Miceli saw dramatic results. “We purposely kept grade 11 college math in the first period,” he says. “The year before the late start the pass rate was 17 per cent. The first year after the pilot—the same teacher, the same resources, same method— it rose to 55 per cent.” It is still a low percentage, but it’s an impressive jump to be seen over the course of just one year.

Eastern Commerce may still have a long way to come, but it is showing progress, and perhaps more importantly, a vested interest in the success of its students—a characteristic that the Report fails to include, but which is undoubtedly an indicator of a good school.

Stay tuned next week for part two of Making the Grade, in which Christina Pugliese takes a closer look at Danforth Collegiate.

One Comment

  • Sarah

    I like your point about sleep. A lot of people don’t realize that teens need more sleep than adults. The fact that this school took this into consideration is important. Most schools wouldn’t take action but this school saw that things weren’t working for their students so they decided to try something new. That’s really revoluntionary. Instead of throwing in the towel and blaming troubled students they took action to try and help them. More schools should take this example. Great article!

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