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Staff assemble outside Toronto's first Africentric school in the city's north end. The school will begin classes on Sept. 8. ((Mike Crawley/CBC))

On Tuesday, when hundreds of thousands of Ontario students head back to school, a lot of attention will be focused on one particular school in Toronto's north end.

It only has 85 students, but hopes are high for the Africentric Alternative School, which will open its doors near Keele Street and Sheppard Avenue West on Sept. 8 for the very first time.

The administrative staff, the teachers, the parents — even the kids — are excited about the new school.

"I'm going to learn how to write the A, B, C, Ds," says Makeba Ofori-McRae in anticipation.

When Makeba enters Grade One she wants to "learn how to write the numbers. Then I'm going to colour."

Her mother, Amma, says she enrolled Makeba in the Africentric school so her daughter would be taught about her black heritage.

"It's just something that they're going to be learning," she said. "It's got nothing to do with separating. We're still going to be around other people."

The Toronto District School Board voted narrowly to approve the controversial school in January 2008.

It's an attempt by educators to combat the disproportionately high dropout rate among black students in the Toronto school system.

Thando Hyman-Aman, the principal of the Africentric school, is adamant the children will learn the same curriculum as all other schools in Ontario.

"The same reading, the same writing, the same mathematics will be there," she said. "What makes this school look different are the culturally relevant resources that we use." 

Those resources include textbooks such as The Kid's Book of Black Canadian History or a story about 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, who is from Kenya.

"We definitely want to nurture a sense of belonging and community, but we also want to make sure that our standards are very high — where students can read, write, speak, clearly and perform very well," said Hyman-Aman.

Leah Newbold, the school's French, health and phys-ed teacher, is also excited about the new school.

"I know that the students in our communities are brilliant, and I want to be part of a school that's helping them to demonstrate that — and that's leading them to be successful." 

The school is still accepting new students for the fall, and the principal says it is getting inquiries every day.