Silver Donald Cameron

Posts Tagged ‘Plessisville’

How To Grow Citizens

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

JULY 19, 2009

by Silver Donald Cameron

Darrell Dexter wants to keep young people here by creating a province where they can make a living, and where they will also want to live. Me, too. So I’d like to take him to Plessisville, Quebec.

Plessisville, pop. 9000, is the home of La Samare, the remarkable little rural high school that has won more Millennium Excellence scholarships than any other public high school in Canada. It’s surrounded by smaller communities which provide about half the students of La Samare. And those small communities have given rise to a remarkable organization designed to “foster independence, initiative and a sense of responsibility among young people of 12-18 years.”

Partenaires 12-18 began in the hamlet of Lyster about 15 years ago, says Gilles Cayer, the organization’s co-ordinator, a compact, dynamic man in his forties. A group of parents, disturbed by such obvious signs of youthful discontent as vandalism, drinking and drug use, asked the municipality for help. The municipality agreed to provide a space and staff time to help youths and adults get together.

The group then did a brilliant and simple thing. They asked the young people what they needed and they listened deeply to the answers.

The kids said they wanted sports and recreation, trips and similar activities. Very well, said the adults, how can we get those things? Let’s organize. They established Partenaires12-18 as a partnership of youth, parents, the municipality, local businesses and others.

Coached by the adults, the young people learned to create organizations, set goals, make and execute action plans. As they gained confidence and experience, they took on more daunting challenges creating peer mentorship networks and counselling services such as suicide watches. They identified a need for summer jobs, and realized that local businesses couldn’t possibly employ them all so they studied entrepreneurship, and began creating their own micro-businesses.

Partenaires12-18 spread to the nearby communities, and set up an office in La Samare. It drew grants and sponsorships from companies, development agencies, the Ministry of Health, foundations, the school board and the police. One foundation official, visiting from Montreal, was stunned to see 14-year-olds confidently engaged in organizational development running meetings, taking minutes, naming boards of directors. He was “on a cloud,” grins Gilles Cayer. “He said he had never seen anything like it.”

Cayer views himself not as an animator, but as an “accompagnateur” who accompanies the young people on their journeys. What’s visible to the community, he says, are the social, cultural and sporting activities, but what’s at least as important is the constant counselling both between the young people and with others. One example is Cayer’s own practice of encouraging students to apply for Millennium Excellence awards.

Partenaires 12-18 is dedicated to three objectives: meeting the specific needs of rural youth, alleviating the social problems caused by the decay of rural communities, and retaining young people in their communities. The model ultimately spawned sister organizations across Quebec.

Locally, delinquency has dropped almost to zero, says Cayer. And Partenaires 12-18 was recently the subject of a scientific study. He stresses the word “scientific.” It showed that more than 60% of participants in Partenaires 12-18 remained seriously involved in community service. Over 90% regularly voted in elections. More than 90% were proud to have been recognized for their achievements, and that recognition had motivated them to continue. Two of La Samare’s three current Millennium Excellence winners had been nurtured in Partenaires 12-18.

And most participants returned to their communities after studying elsewhere.

The moral is pretty clear. Rural communities that want to survive must put the development of their young people at the very top of their agendas. The heart of that development is respect and responsibility. The pimply teens soon emerge as scientists, teachers, entrepreneurs, doctors adult citizens with a major contribution to make. If they have grown up believing that the community truly belongs to them, that they are respected and trusted as well as loved, that the community provides the soil in which they personally can flower, then they will probably want to raise their own children in that same place, in that same way.

As in Plessisville, so in Parrsboro, Pomquet and Plymouth. Why not?

– 30 —

A High School in Quebec

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

JULY 12, 2009

It feels like Hollywood: the presenter at the mike, the announcements, the spotlight on the recipients as they make their ways to the stage while the audience hoots and claps.

But this is the auditorium at a high school called Polyvalente La Samare in Plessisville, Quebec. And this is an awards night. The trim, youthful man on the stage is Stéphane LeBlanc of the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, who is presenting Millennium Excellence Awards to Sophie Boutin, Cloé Marcoux and Mathieu Samson. These awards recognize not only academic achievement, but also citizenship and leadership.

Stéphane now reveals that over the past decade, this rural school has produced more than 50 Excellence Award laureates more than any other public high school in Canada. Indeed the only school of any kind to win more awards is Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific, an exclusive private school in Victoria. La Samare has captured as many as eight Millennium Awards in a single year.

What is its secret?

An intense relationship with the whole community, says Danielle Béliveau, La Samare’s directrice, or principal. Plessisville is a small town of about 9000 people, “so the school becomes the centre of the community,” constantly humming with non-credit courses, meetings of clubs and associations, festivals, fundraisers. The school operates from early morning till late at night, seven days a week, and that very fact draws people in. The janitor, for example, seeing the students and teachers working on projects together late into the evening, was moved to volunteer. He now coaches the basketball team.

La Samare’s philosophy, says Mme. Béliveau, is that it’s everything outside the classroom that makes students love school, so the school provides a huge spectrum of extra-curricular activities. That’s where students learn the skills of citizenship and leadership and that’s why La Samare has a drop-out rate of 5% to 6%, as opposed to the typical rate of of about 25%.

With just over 1000 students, La Samare is the perfect size, says guidance counsellor Patricia Bourque large enough to offer any activity, but small enough that people know one another very personally. Because roughly 80% of the teachers were also students here as were the local doctors, lawyers and business people, as was Patricia herself they fully grasp the tradition of community involvement. And they know its effect on the students.

“When I first came to an awards ceremony at La Samare,” says Stéphane LeBlanc, “I noticed that parents, grandparents, siblings and community mentors and volunteers all participated. All the students mentioned the immense support they received from their parents, teachers and guidance counsellors.

“Actually, I had already seen that support. Back at the beginning of the program, I used to get phone calls from a teacher here named Majella Lemieux. He’d have questions about the criteria, and about the application form. We’d talk, and he’d thank me very politely and then these great applications started to come in from Plessisville.”

Majella Lemieux is a slight, intense, good-humoured man, now retired. For him, the essence of a teacher’s calling is to know the students profoundly, not just as “students,” but as unique individuals with passions and problems and to support them fiercely.

“Kids can do marvellous things, but you have to push them,” he says. “And if you push them, you have to support them, you have to be there. Many student organizations meet after school, and I liked to be ready for the next day, so I didn’t leave until 5:00 or 5:30. They were just down the corridor, so I’d look in on them, see how they were doing, help them if they needed it.

“And if you’re there, and they have personal problems or whatever, they come to talk to you. And that’s when you get them! After that you can work with them.”

And that’s where the scholarships come from, says Patricia Bourque. Students think they aren’t special but a teacher urging them to fill out an application makes them reflect on what they’ve actually done, and teaches them how to present themselves. If the school has given them opportunities to flower, the application will reveal that.

The students will appear to be special. And that’s because they are.

–30 –

Author note: Silver Donald Cameron is writing a book on the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation. Next week he reports on a remarkable youth organization in Plessisville which complements the work of La Samare.