By Gerald V. Paul
With the drop-out rate being one of the crucial issues that Canadian educators face, a Trinidad and Tobago teacher was credited with helping to stem the tide in the early seventies with a special program he initiated at the local school level.
Cyril Young’s former students gathered at Frankie Tomatto’ s in Markham last Saturday to break bread and bear gifts in a to “Sir with love” appreciative bonding.
After Young graduated from UofT with a BSc and BEd, he taught under the City of York School Board. “I was able to implement a program for high school students in the City of York. The program was to facilitate immigrant students from the Caribbean who were experiencing difficulties in adjusting to Canada’s education system,” Young told The Camera.
The secret to his success? “Basically hard work and my encouragement is for the young people to stay in school and do their best.”
This particular program was also extended to Vaughn Road Collegiate Institute.
He said he knew that race, class, gender and other forms of social differences can affect how education was delivered. For Black students, whose drop-out rate was disproportionately high, race was the key element in the disengagement.
Barbados-born educator Collis Carter notes that a major issue in the alienation of Black students which eventually results in dropping out of school is that of racial identity. This issue occupied a large part of students’ complaints about the content of the curriculum, which they said had no relevance to their lives.
Young agreed that the students who saw the lack of curriculum content devoted to their history and experience were likely to drop out.
Jamaican-born Paul Messam, an electrical contractor who was part of the program Young pioneered, said, “For me he was a father, a big brother and my best friend. He was a go-to, man. You tell him what it is and he will fix it. When I was going on the wrong path, he “saved” me.
“He’s an icon. “I am always employed. I have my own company and work on contract for others. I love being a tradesperson where I control my own time and destiny.”
Young saw that Black students faced an educational dilemma. The importance of finishing school for employment and social mobility and, on the other hand, their interpretation of the curriculum content and treatment in terms of racial identity caused them to disengage from the system.
Carter noted that while parents and the values they hold are powerful deterrents to leaving school, teachers have to gain students’ trust which he did the old-fashioned way – he earned it.
And Young was excellent at mentoring the students as a teacher, a father and even as a track coach.
His strength lay in connecting with the students to deal with discrimination and to amalgamate with the Canadian education system.
Young was also honoured for his social responsibility in the community, including Tropicana Community Services where he coordinated Saturday morning classes for students who needed assistance with school work.
Young’s children and grandchildren are continuing the good work, especially a grandchild who is pursuing a career in teacher education and is enrolled at the University of Ottawa.
Young summed up his career in the words of Albert Schweitzer: “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”