'Heartbreaking' goodbye at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School

In the next step toward closing at the end of this school year, Grade 11 students at Don Bosco Catholic high school have their final day of class at that school Friday.

Grade 11 students' last day of class at Don Bosco

Omar Anderson, Callie Conforti, Ramone Patterson & Jessica Forde reminisce about their years at Don Bosco high school. (Martin Trainor)

With their arms draped around each other, four Don Bosco students look at each other meaningfully as the weight of 18-year-old Callie Conforti's words fill an empty room.

"Our last full day together as a family," she said.

Friday is the last day of the first semester for many high schools in the GTA. At Don Bosco Catholic Secondary, it's also the last day the Grade 11 students will attend the school, which now has a population of just under 100.

It's heartbreaking. It's like we're tearing up our family.- Callie Conforti, 18

"It's heartbreaking. It's like we're tearing up our family," Conforti said.

After exams next week, Grade 11 students will transfer based on each individual's catchment area to new high schools to finish this school year and Grade 12.

Ramone "Prince" Patterson, one of the 32 students who will be going, describes the halls of the school that once held 1,000 as a ghost town. The coming change has been stressful, he said.

Don Bosco students reflect on school ahead of closure

5 years ago
Duration 1:40
Don Bosco students reflect on their time at the high school ahead of the June closure.

"I'm a nervous person. I'm really shy. I keep to myself," he said, "That's me. Until I open up and that takes time."

You have to prove yourself to some people and then, you have to try to fit in and that's pretty hard.- Ramone 'Prince' Patterson, 16

On Feb. 6 he will attend Michael Power St. Joseph high school.

"You have to prove yourself to some people," he sighed, "And then you have to try to fit in and that's pretty hard. And it's a packed school — over 2,000 kids. That's a lot."

He said lately some of his classes have had as few as six students.
Classmate Jessica Forde, who will attend Monsignor Percy Johnson Catholic High School, said small classes helped boost their grades.

Moving to the bigger schools, "you're not going to get the one-on-one with teachers," she said.

The Grade 12 class of 2017 will finish the year as the last 60 students to attend the school near Dixon and Islington.

Omar Anderson (L), Callie Conforti, Jessica Forde and Ramone Patterson (Martin Trainor)

Similar to other schools, including those in the Toronto District School Board, like Drake's former school, Vaughan Road Academy, near Oakwood Avenue and Eglinton West, declining student enrolment is at the heart of the issue.

Adrian Della Mora, the area superintendent for the Toronto Catholic District School Board, said Don Bosco is in a pupil accommodation review stage and it's uncertain what happens next with the building.

As word spread that the school was slated for closure, many students left for other high schools and the decision to move the remaining Grade 11 students was made just before Christmas, he said.

Adrian Della Mora, Toronto Catholic District School Board Superintendant (Martin Trainor)

The consensus was that it would be better for the Grade 11 students "in the long run for them to truthfully experience that new community, ground themselves in it ... participate actively in it and get ready for their final critical Grade 12 year," Della Mora explained.

He acknowledged that it has been extremely emotional and attributed that to the uncertainty.

Peer pressure and fitting in

"Ultimately it's the issue of peer pressure, how to fit in, how people will welcome them," Della Mora said.

The school is connecting outgoing students with guidance counselors, student success teachers and administrators at their new schools in an effort to make the mid-year transition easier, he said.

As for Grade 11 student Callie Conforti, it still feels like the end of an era. Many of her family members have attended the school over the years, including her aunt and uncle, who met there.

The small classes brought the teachers and students closer than ever, Conforti says.

"It's more than you can ask for and it's not like anything anyone's ever experienced. We can't thank them enough," she said.

For many Torontonians, Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School is associated with the late former mayor Rob Ford, who skipped council meetings to coach the football team and was removed by the Catholic school board at the same time that the crack scandal exploded in May of 2013.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is hoisted into the air by his Don Bosco Eagles team after winning the Metro Bowl quarter-final at Birchmount Park in Toronto, Thursday Nov. 15, 2012. (Christopher Drost/Canadian Press)

But for those left at Don Bosco that is irrelevant.

Ford's involvement was over by the time the students who remain began attending the school. Calling themselves "Bosconians," they say the only legacy they know is about community.

This school "taught me the true meaning about being a family here and what it is to be a family, because here you love each other no matter what, and you support each other no matter what," Conforti said as her friends nodded.

Also going through a pupil accommodation review are the following Catholic high schools:

  • Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati
  • Sacred Heart
  • St. Bede
  • St. Gabriel Lalemant
  • Prince of Peace
  • St. Rene Goupil
  • The Divine Infant
  • Holy Redeemer
  • Our Lady of Guadalupe
  • St. Matthias
  • St. Timothy