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Before-and-After Portraits of Alternative Education Students Decades Later

Located in the city of Toronto, ALPHA Alter­na­tive School is one of Canada’s oldest free schools. For the school’s 40th anniversary last year, photographer Michael Barker worked on a project titled Alpha Alternative School 1972/2012. It’s a series of diptychs with portraits of students shot back in the 1970s/1980s placed next to new portraits of the students captured around four decades later.

An ALPHA Alter­na­tive School class portrait from 1979

ALPHA stands for “A Lot of Par­ents Hop­ing for an Alter­na­tive.” The school was unique in the Toronto public school system due to the fact that it had no homework, no grades, and no tests. One of the main ideas the school was based on is that children do much of their learning by playing.

Thus, students were allowed to explore their own interest, learning what they wanted to, and making or doing things they found interesting.

In addi­tion to daily one-on-one or small-group lessons in read­ing, writ­ing, math, and French, an ALPHA stu­dent in the 1970s could learn to take pho­tographs with a pin­hole cam­era and develop them in an onsite dark­room; build a kid-size wooden fort; make stop-motion ani­mated films; con­struct giant painted sculp­tures out of snow; incu­bate an egg and raise the result­ing chicken; buy and care for trop­i­cal fish; research and write essays on art his­tory, and on and on. [#]

In addition to the portraits, the project also features interviews with the students that were conducted by Ariel Field­ing. The goal was to offer a peek into the lives of some of Canada’s first participants in the radical experiment of cooperative education, and to see what (if any) long-term effects it had on the “guinea pigs.”

Jen­nifer Ferrari: ALPHA 1973 to 1984, ages 4 – 14. Stud­ied at Trent Uni­ver­sity. Works as an Auto­mo­tive Technician.

Ste­fan Lynch Strassfeld: ALPHA 1977 – 1984, ages 5 – 12. Ran an inter­na­tional orga­ni­za­tion for kids of LGBTQ par­ents. Stud­ied Nurs­ing at Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, San Fran­cisco. Works as the direc­tor of the health clinic at Juve­nile Hall, San Francisco.

Mag­gie Marelli: ALPHA 1976 to 1984, ages 4 – 12. Stud­ied Fine Arts. Works in Home Improve­ment. Cre­ates art.

Kether Gra­ham: ALPHA 1975 to 1979 or 1980, ages 4 – 9. Stud­ied Law Enforce­ment at Seneca Col­lege, then Bak­ing and Pas­try at George Brown. Works for the City of Toronto.

Jamie Leonard: ALPHA late 1970s to 1980s, ages 4 – 13. Stud­ied Jour­nal­ism at Ryer­son Uni­ver­sity. Works in Infor­ma­tion Technology/Server Sup­port. Rides, col­lects, and writes about motorcycles.

Mor­gan Jones Phillips: ALPHA 1975 to 1981, ages 4 – 9. Stud­ied Lan­guages and Lin­guis­tics at York Uni­ver­sity, French as a Sec­ond Lan­guage at Uni­ver­sité du Québec à Trois Riv­ières, and Para­medics at Cen­ten­nial Col­lege. Works as a Para­medic. Does stand-up comedy.

Flan­nery Fielding: ALPHA 1977 to 1985, ages 4 – 11. Stud­ied Nurs­ing at Ryer­son Uni­ver­sity and Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, San Fran­cisco. Works as a Nurse Prac­ti­tioner in Pal­lia­tive Care. Cre­ates art, sings, and plays the ukelele.

Crocky Teas­dale: ALPHA 1973 to 1978, ages 7 – 8 & 10 – 11. Stud­ied at the Royal Con­ser­va­tory of Music. Works as a graphic designer at Maple Leaf Sports and Enter­tain­ment. Makes music.

You can find out more about the project and read interviews with each of the portrait subjects over on Barker’s website.

Alpha Alternative School 1972/2012 [Michael Barker]


Image credits: Original photos by F. Robert Openshaw, new photographs by Michael Barker and used with permission

[via PetaPixel]

[via PetaPixel]

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