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When Catholic education meets urban realities

Kris Dmytrenko

June 4, 2009
What sort of teenagers get involved in gangs? And what does a gang-plagued community look like? Before I began researching the issue for the S+L documentary Changing Course, my mind would conjure the usual stereotype of disaffected thugs congregating near austere social housing complexes. The most troubling aspect of this popular image of street life, perpetuated nightly on the local news, is how these individuals and communities are dehumanized. Most of us cannot relate to the dangerous gang lifestyle…and we’re comforted by this distance.
Don’t get too comfortable, warns Michael Tagliaferri, former principal of Guardian Angels elementary in Brampton (now at St. Simon Stock in Mississauga).
“Gangs are nothing more than young people coming together to fill a need that isn’t being met by the community as a whole,” he explained in an interview for Changing Course. Indeed, the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board targeted Guardian Angels for new gang and bullying prevention initiatives not because the neighbourhood is socio-economically challenged. Rather, the pristine new school is surrounded by rows of gleaming new townhouses. New big-box complexes continue to pop up along the busy thoroughfares.
“You have a community here that, in the last four or five years, has probably doubled,” Tagliaferri explains, and the negative side of this growth was how quickly community services became insufficient. Combined with the lack of parental supervision for many kids returning home each day, it’s left to the schools to provide positive after-school activities.
These extracurricular programs were just one aspect of a comprehensive anti-gang and anti-bullying strategy employed at Guardian Angels and five other Greater Toronto Area schools. We followed their progress for one school year, resulting in Changing Course. When the bell finally rings for summer vacation, we’re left with a vivid impression of what happens when Catholic education meets urban realities.
Changing Course: A Catholic project for city schools airs on S+L this Sunday night at 9 pm. See encore presentations Monday at 1:30 pm, Wednesday at 8 pm, and next Thursday at 12 am & 12:30 pm (all times ET). Learn more about S+L's latest documentary HERE.