In the 1960s, in all of Metro Toronto, there was no preschool for children with disabilities. Parents, who chose to keep their children at home instead of institutionalizing them, had no consistent relief from 24-hour care and almost no means of getting help to develop the skills and talents of these little children.
In 1965, one teacher, eight dedicated volunteers, and three lucky children formed the nucleus of what would become Centennial Infant and Child Centre. For two years the school was housed in a private home.
In 1967, as part of their “Centennial Project”, the women at St. George’s United Church offered space (and provided volunteers) in the church and the school became Centennial Nursery School for Retarded Children. It was a non-profit organization licensed by the Day Nurseries Branch of the Ontario Department of Social and Family Services. This unique school provided individual programmes developed by specialists for children from two years to 16 years. Each child had an adult volunteer to implement the programme. When the Metropolitan Toronto School Board took over responsibility for school age children, Centennial dedicated itself to children two to four years old.
By 1975, the staff (which had grown along with the children’s numbers) realized they were not reaching the children early enough and the Infant Development Programme was started. The school became Centennial Infant and Child Centre. Funding for this part of the programme was dependent on the generosity of donors while the school received partial funding from the Ministry of Community and Social Services. In 1980, realizing the importance of exposure to children who are typically developing, the staff began the “Reverse Integration” programme. Now, eight of the 32 children in the preschool are developing in a typical manner. All children benefit from having peers of differing abilities. By watching and imitating children who are developing typically, the children with special needs are stimulated to learn. In addition to the usual skills learned at school, all children learn tolerance of differences, patience, and acceptance. With the increase in numbers of children and subsequent increase in staff, the facilities at St. George’s United Church became too crowded. A major fundraising initiative took place to relocate Centennial to its own building.
In October 1997 the school moved to its present location at 1580 Yonge Street. The bright windowed classrooms are inviting to children and adults; the spaces for the library, meeting rooms, offices, gym, kitchen allow the staff to provide services more efficiently. Centennial prides itself on its flexibility in providing necessary services and in growing and changing with the needs of the families.