Skip to main content

There are still a lot of misconceptions around alternative schools and about the academic abilities of students and their fitness to go out in the world and find happiness and fulfillment.

Even 40 years later, ALPHA (which stands for “A Lot of People Hoping for an Alternative”) is still perceived as radical. If this project helps people to understand a little bit about what free schooling is, I’d be happy.”

Ariel Fielding
ALPHA, Toronto’s alternative school, marks 40 years by catching up with students,
Alyshah Hasham, Toronto Star, May 2013

ALPHA Alter­na­tive School, one of the oldest alternative schools in Canada, celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2012. ALPHA—A Lot of Parents Hoping for an Alternative—was unique in the Toronto public school system when it was founded in 1972. It had none of the usual paraphernalia of mainstream education: no homework, grades, or tests.

This project pairs black and white childhood portraits taken by F. Robert Openshaw in 1978 alongside present-day portraits of the same people taken at ALPHA during the 40th anniversary reunion by Michael Barker. The portraits are accompanied by texts contributed by the subjects and shaped by Ariel Fielding.

ALPHA was a glorious countercultural experiment devised in an age of hopeful ingenuity and driven by a desire for freedom. Remarkably, in spite of the many changes that have taken place in the world since ALPHA’s founding—and the ongoing unease of the larger culture with alternative education—the school is still here, now nearly fifty years old, not just surviving, but thriving.

Photographs by
Michael Barker and F. Robert Openshaw

Text and Interviews by
Ariel Fielding

Read The Interviews

Lucy Falkner sits in a classroom at Alpha Alternative School

Lucy Falkner

Jennifer Ferrari

Jennifer Ferrari

Flan­nery Fielding

Flannery Fielding

Kether Graham sits in a classroom at Alpha Alternative School

Kether Graham

Morgan Jones Phillips sits on a chair in a classroom at Alpha Alternative School in front of a row of colourful painted lockers

Morgan Jones-Phillips

Jamie Leonard stands in front of his sidecar motorcycle parked in front of Alpha Alternative School

Jamie Leonard

Maggie Marelli stands in front of book shelves at Alpha Alternative School

Maggie Marrelli

Stefan Lynch Strassfeld sits in a cubby hole in a classroom at Alpha Alternative School

Stefan Lynch Strassfeld

Crawford Crocky Teasdale

Crawford Crocky Teasdale

Read The Book