Our Schools in Leaside are old – Bessborough is the oldest, built in 1923. Rolph Rd was constructed in 1939 and Northlea and Leaside High School in 1943. The newest school in our neighbourhood is Bennington Heights, constructed in 1950.
The physical spaces that our schools occupy – the buildings and the grounds – have been adapted to meet our societal changes with limited renovations and with much ingenuity along with the ability ‘to make do’.
When these buildings were designed, children walked leafy streets to school on their own and went home for lunch prepared by stay-at-home moms. There were no childcare programs in our schools – or almost anywhere in Toronto. Teachers opened a window to catch a breeze as summer arrived.
At school children played on playground structures that would be deemed quite unsafe by today’s standards. Metal slides were so hot they frequently burnt a child’s skin. Teeter totters slammed hard into the ground and caught legs beneath them. Kids hovered 10 feet above the ground on jungle gyms with hard concrete below. The fields surrounding the play structures were green and weedy but thriving.
Inside electrical outlets accommodated the office equipment – electric typewriters, mimeograph machines – perhaps a radio or television brought into class for the Queen’s coronation or a projector to show a reel from the National Film Board.
Now let’s fast forward to 2016. These old buildings are still there – though they may have accumulated additions, new windows, a new door added here, or a stairway modified there.
Two parent working families are now the norm for our community. Very few students go home for lunch. All our children – some as young as 3, are at school all day. As a result our schools, built without lunchroom facilities or serveries, are accommodating hundreds of kids at lunch – hungry and full of energy in gymnasiums, classrooms and all-purpose rooms. Caretakers assemble huge tables and clean them and collapse them within an hour.
We have vibrant childcare programs in all our elementary schools to accommodate both pre-school children and school-aged kids who arrive early or stay late.
As June arrives and when students return to school in September, temperatures in buildings, which are not air-conditioned, can become unbearable. Do you remember the heat last September? Climate experts tell us we will face increasingly warmer weather.
Traffic around the school has greatly increased and become a serious safety concern. Parents are hesitant about their children walking the streets and now drive them to and from school. The issue has become so difficult that recently there have been concerted efforts to encourage kids to walk to school. Rolph Road, Northlea and now Leaside have undergone intensive safety travel audits through an organization called Green Communities Canada. Teams of teachers, students and parents walk the neighbourhood and document suggestions for safer travel. In late November, Premier Kathleen Wynne, Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca, Mayor John Tory and Director of Education Dr. John Malloy visited Northlea to announce that soon photo radar will be used in an attempt to slow cars down in school zones.
The school fields now seem resistant to grass. They often become mud baths. Both Northlea and Bessborough were able to raise the large amount of money needed to put in artificial turf so that that the fields are usable earlier and later in the season. Plastic climbing structures sit on foam or soft mulch. Our schools are now wired for computers and smartboards. We have Wi-Fi so that our classrooms are connected to the world.
Tougher security measures have also transformed schools (buzzers and locked doors) as has environmental awareness (insulation and solar panels).
These schools, built over 50 years ago, have served us well. Countless young people have walked their halls, learned, thrown balls in their fields and thrived. However, it is necessary for our facilities to change with the times, despite our many financial and space constraints. The TDSB will continue to work with communities to meet the needs of today’s Centennials (now aged 0-18) and their children so they are assured of having the schools they deserve for their particular time in history.
Gerri Gershon is the Trustee, Don Valley West, for the Toronto District School Board