Toronto teacher and anti-Black racism advocate, Korina Thomas-Reynolds, has co-founded Roots To Routes Academy, a Durham Region-based independent school for Black students.
For Scarborough native, Korina Thomas-Reynolds, the decision to become a teacher was an easy one to make.
“It was always something I wanted to do since I was younger”, she explains. “It’s a little cliché, like Whitney Houston—I believed that children were the future and it was an area where I wanted to impact change.”
After high school, she had a decision to make about her own future—either stay in Toronto, study outside of the city, or do a year abroad.
Enticed by its reputation as training grounds for teachers of French as a second language and its exchange program that would allow her to take a year off and go abroad, she chose York University’s Glendon College. The concurrent education program allowed her to pursue an Honours International Bachelor of Arts (iBA) degree in French Studies at Glendon, while taking courses at York University’s Keele campus towards her Bachelor of Education.
From student to teacher to advocate
After graduating in 2018, she started teaching French at a high school in Etobicoke. But Thomas-Reynolds isn’t your average teacher; she’s also an advocate for her community who is using her voice to speak out against anti-Black racism.
“That began from the very first day I became a teacher in Toronto”, she explains. “It’s not necessarily something I had predicted. I knew I would help with Black Heritage Month as we call it now. But it did take me becoming a teacher to see how much racism still exists in the city of Toronto. I found it very disheartening…I felt I had no choice but to be an advocate. Who else is there when I’m the only Black teacher in the school?”
From public to private education
Still a teacher in the public school system, this love for both education and her community led her and her business partner, Ramya Selladurai, to start their own independent school called Roots to Routes Academy that will offer Mathematics in a global curriculum. They plan on operating under a hybrid model that will see them offer classes both online and in a physical space.
“I started it because of how passionate I am about change. Working in predominantly White schools during my teaching career, I’ve seen how upper class families are able to navigate the education system…When Black students feel underserved in the public school system, where can they go?”
“We’re really pushing against this Euro-centric notion of education…We’re offering high school credit courses for the summer where students can take a course with us that will help them feel more assured in their cultural identity.”
Right now, they are focusing on Durham Region with its high Black and South Asian populations and its lack of private high school credit programs which are typically located in rich areas, including Lawrence Park and Oakville, targeting students from affluent families while hindering minorities from having the same access and opportunities.
While classes don’t start until this summer, they currently offer podcasts geared towards Black parents to give them tips on how to navigate the education system.
Cultural literacy matters
As she looks back at her journey, there were a number of pivotal moments in her life that informed her understanding of culture, but perhaps none greater than her decision to spend a year abroad in France, as an exchange student.
“The year abroad that I had spent in France was transformative”, she explains. “It changed my life and it changed my family’s life too. Aside from that one time I went to Jamaica when I was 16 years old, it was my first time going abroad. I didn’t have the privilege of travelling abroad growing up because it wasn’t a privilege I could afford.”
While in France, she had a profound experience that not only changed her as a person, but also as a teacher.
“I was there during the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015. Because of that, the whole experience was super politically charged. That made me understand more about cultural literacy and the importance of understanding a culture. Learning more about the conflicts happening in France at the time and looking at my ability to travel to make myself a better educator was transformative and has helped me connect with my students a lot more and look at education with a more global perspective.”
From the cultural diversity of Scarborough and her upbringing as a Jamaican-Canadian in Toronto to her travels abroad, she is more dedicated than ever to see Black students prosper.
Whether at Glendon or in the high school system, Thomas-Reynolds has a simple message.
“Black representation in educational spaces matters, at every level.”
Advice for high school students
- Try to enjoy your last year of high school
- Allow yourself time to reflect on the decision you’re about to make
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT GLENDON STUDENT PROGRAMS VISIT YORKU.CA/GLENDON