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Central Toronto Academy revitalized after principal lets students run the school

Central Toronto Academy wasn’t always a place of positive vibes. This high school, formerly known as Central Commerce Collegiate, was dealing with low enrollment rates, fractured student and staff relationships, issues with bullying and homophobia and it wasn’t until 2011 that things changed.

Iwona Kurman became Principal at CTA and that’s when everything started to changed, for the better.

The school was re-branded, re-named and given a new mascot, along with new programming. Re-vamping the school wasn’t an easy task, but she said her dream was for students to have a voice and to actually enjoy coming to school.

“Education is not just about going to classes, it’s about human interaction, it’s about building your character, it’s about working together and it’s about having fun while you do it,” said Kurman. “When students have a sense of ownership they feel it’s their place and I think that makes a huge difference in how they behave, how they learn, how they relate to each other, to the teachers, and to everybody.”

The school has a strong focus on art and expression, you’ll find the walls and lockers disguised as beautiful murals as well as inspirational phrases painted along the hallways.

Part of the new programming was a Ministry initiative called SHSM (Specialist High Skills Majors) which provides students with real world experiences by teaming them up with professionals in the community and getting them out of the classroom to learn and create. That jump-started their “6ixess Academy Campaign,” which created t-shirts as a way to take a stance against bullying.

But they didn’t stop there.

A story we first shared with you on CityNews was an example of how this entrepreneurship program helped these kids make footprints in the fashion world.

Rebecca Dileo, the Art Director at CTA, said these kids have essentially been given wings and have really taken it upon themselves to soar.

“Students here at CTA have an opportunity on so many levels through so many different courses here to voice their opinions, to have a say in how they want to learn,” she said. “I think it’s the new face of education, involving students from the bottom up [and] having them as part of the process.”

The 6ixess Academy has produced more than shoes and t-shirts. They’ve got a full merchandise line that includes water bottles, iPhone cases, sweatshirts, snap-backs, and have just started a line of scarves and hijabs. The revamped arts program has allowed the school to become self-sustainable since all the proceeds from their merchandise go back into the school.

This is a model Dileo says other schools should think about adopting as a way to do away with things like bake sales and fundraisers. She said it allows the kids to be fully involved in painting their canvass of success.