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Triangle Program scrambles for cash

Class size nearly doubles

Canada’s only queer classroom will continue fundraising efforts to accommodate its much larger class size since the province announced there’s no new money this year.

The program usually takes up to 18 queer students; this year they were asked to take 30.

“I feel we are often ignored because we run a good program, we fly under the radar and we don’t want to bring too many people in, but why should our community [through fundraising] make sure that our youth are educated?” asks Jeffrey White, one of the teachers at Triangle.

The Triangle Program, part of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and one of the three schools under the Oasis Alternative Secondary Schools, is a transitional program to help queer youth who have had a rough ride in the school system. Students typically participate for a couple of semesters before being referred to another school.

“A growing concern for us is the number of trans students who come to our program because I cannot think of a school to refer them to,” says White. This has led to an expansion in the curriculum so trans students could get high school credits from grades 9 to 12 at Triangle.

In September Triangle was given an additional teacher, but White, who had been the lone teacher along with a designated social worker, says it would be ideal if they could get an additional part-time teacher.

“It’s the kids who are really at risk — they end up in our program and we’re constantly dealing with a crisis everyday of something happening in their lives,” says White. He says he and the other teacher are able to cover most of the core high school credits, but an additional staff would be helpful for teaching arts.

White says the only financial contribution from the TDSB is the salary of the two teachers and social worker. They are given a $3,000 operational budget for school supplies, but classroom computers and furniture are bought using donations. Fundraising is also done to support class trips and to help operate their nutritional program.

“We have a lot of students who are in Ontario Works, living on their own, living with low-income families and travelling from all over the GTA, so we want to ensure they have a hot meal at least once a day,” says White.

White estimates they will need around $16,000 this year to provide the 29 students with things like school trips and school lunches. Friends Of Community Schools, a charitable organization that assists with fundraising, is only able to give them $6,000, says White.

“I am kind of frightened about where we are going to get the additional $10,000 for this year,” says White. “So we are going to try to do some fundraising events this year…. I am not a fundraiser, I’m so busy just trying to run the program.”

The prospect of finding the money for an additional part-time teacher looks bleak.

“There is no money because of the budget,” says openly gay TDSB trustee Chris Bolton. On Oct 3, Ontario’s new Education Minister Kathleen Wynne announced that there would be no new money available, not even to cover the TDSB’s $84-million deficit.

Even if there was money, board chair Sheila Ward isn’t sure any of it would go to the Triangle Program.

“Every school in the system would like more and better resources. If I had it, they would get it. I am not aware of any difficulties with the Triangle program at the moment,” says Ward.

Ward, an out lesbian, says she is sensitive to the concerns of the Triangle Program. But she says two teachers and one social worker for 29 students is a “very rich ratio.”

But White says you can’t compare the Triangle Program to other classroom situations.

“It is a lot of work because you’re playing many roles,” he says. “You’re playing teacher, guidance counsellor, support teacher and it’s really hard to wear all those hats and do any of them justice,” says White.

Triangle principal Gabi Kurzydlowsi says she expects they will get additional support in the upcoming year.