PS News

Reports on recent College activities and a selection of announcements, events and initiatives in the wider education community.

Syl Apps's Wall of Fame

Inspiring high-risk youth to learn

A little star power and a lot of hope go a long way with teenagers at a maximum security treatment facility. Math teacher Joseph Di Nobile, OCT, has found a unique way to reach his challenging students while encouraging them to learn more and strive for a better future.

In Syl Apps School - operated by Kinark Child and Family Services and part of the Syl Apps Youth and Secure Treatment Centre for the most serious young offenders - Di Nobile has created a Wall of Fame covered with photos and handwritten notes from role-model celebrities.

"Hang in there, things do work out," writes Morgan Freeman, one of several dozen whose contributions adorn the classroom wall. Other inspiring messages come from the likes of rocker Sting, NHLer Jarome Iginla, pop star Sheryl Crow, actor Jennifer Tilly and former politician George Smitherman, who signed his message of hope, "former addict."

"The wall gets the kids into my classroom," says Di Nobile. "It gets them comfortable in my space. These are key to establishing a climate for learning. Before you know it, they're doing math." But first there is an intermediary step. The kids ask Di Nobile how he got the messages and photos to decorate the wall. A discussion ensues. He explains it is the result of perseverance and a lifelong fascination with celebrities.

"I get them to think about how I, an average person, can meet these famous people. I make them realize that if they want to meet such people, they need to have their freedom back, become educated, get a decent job, work hard at it and be the sort of person who doesn't scare others away. That's the wall's most important lesson."

"Syl Apps is primarily about rehabilitation," adds Di Nobile. "These kids have been through tragic abuse and neglect, and some have inflicted the same on others. This is their last stop, and they need our help. If one of the messages on the Wall of Fame inspires them, even for a moment, that's a step in the right direction."