Parents and students of an elite educational program protested against the Toronto District School Board’s continuing decision to house it in a school designed for 1,400 students, but currently houses close to 2,000.
Each year, 180 students qualify for entry into TOPS (Talented Offerings for Programs in the Sciences) — a prestigious program for high school students, specializing in science, math and English — but due to the overcrowding at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute only 55 can be admitted.
“We want them to tell us why the 245 kids from this TOPS program, who come from all across the city, have to be placed in an already overcrowded school like Garneau that currently has around 1,940 students,” says co-chair of TOPS parent group Alex Winch.
He says that several Garneau students eat their lunch in hallways and washrooms because the cafeteria can only hold 700 people.
The rally included the presence of several TOPS graduates, voicing problems that have been in place for the past seven years.
“The school’s been overcrowded since I was 14, and I’m knocking on 21 now,” says Suan Feng, a 2008 alum. “(The board has) been putting out the word that they’ve consulted TOPS parents, teachers and students about the decisions they’ve made. But they haven’t.”
Winch says their goal is to expand the TOPS program to a new facility so they can accept more students who meet their standards and qualifications.
“We can serve more students by moving to an existing school with vacant space so we can take our 245 kids and grow the program to 480 kids,” Winch says. “There are a number of schools with more than 500 vacant spaces. We’d be happy to go anywhere in the city and let this thing grow.”
The school board tried to address some of the concerns by creating another TOPS site at Bloor Collegiate, which opened two years ago.
However, many see flaws with TOPS at Bloor Collegiate.
“It’s called TOPS but it isn’t really TOPS,” Feng says. “TOPS at Garneau does winter camping, scientific expeditions, yearly trips to Stratford to see plays, history trips to Ottawa … I don’t think the one at Bloor does any of that.”
According to Winch, TOPS at Bloor C.I. has grown in its own direction, focusing on environmental studies, but teachers within that program have not received any mentoring or guidance from TOPS teachers at Garneau.
“If their teachers haven’t been trained by the ones at Garneau, how can they expect the same success rate with students?” says Winch, referring to the program’s consistency in generating scholarship-winning students.
Trustee Howard Goodman says that conversations concerning TOPS have circulated back and forth for years, but further information is required in order to balance the needs of all the students at Garneau.
“Right now, we’re hearing primarily from the TOPS group, but we need to hear more about the situation from the whole school,” Goodman says. “More information is being collected by staff and the community for the board to review.”
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