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Students gather outside on the first day of school at the Africentric Alternative School in Toronto.Jim Ross

Dressed in tiny green and orange African-print vests, nearly 115 students started their first day at the Africentric Alternative School yesterday near Sheppard Avenue West and Jane Street.

As they sat cross-legged on the gymnasium floor at their first morning assembly, the students represented a victory for proponents of the controversial school, which had only 85 students enrolled as recently as last Thursday.

"I always felt it would be ideal to start the school year with 100 students, as students come and go throughout the year," said Toronto District School Board trustee James Pasternak, one of the school's most vocal supporters. "We certainly have surpassed that."

The last minute surge in enrolment was mostly among the younger grades, especially the junior and senior kindergarten classes, he said.

"Based on the pathway, it gives the school a built-in flow of students into the early grades."

A traditional West African drum troupe played at the opening assembly, and students, parents and teachers sang both the Canadian national anthem and Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing , also known as the black national anthem.

Maryann Scott enrolled her two youngest children, a son who started junior kindergarten, and a daughter who started Grade 4 yesterday. Ms. Scott has two teenaged children who went through the public school system. "It failed them, and I knew right away this would be a good thing for my younger two," she said.

"I think it's important that students know their history, and can learn about [black]leaders," said Osbourne Wellington, whose 3-year-old son, Darius, is starting junior kindergarten at the school today. "Then they'll know that they can dream bigger, that they can be more than basketball players."