Special Report: Blackboard bungle
Published Thursday, November 12, 2009 6:41PM EST
High school dropout rates across Quebec are among the worst in the country.
Close to one in three Quebec teenagers -- 29% -- leaves high school without graduating.
Now the provincial government is setting aside $160 million to bring the rate down to 20% by 2020.
However many community groups are not waiting for the government to take the lead on this crucial issue.
They're acting on their own initiative, with innovative methods for bringing dropouts back to the classroom.
Youth Fusion is a non-profit group that hires university students to lead extra activities in high schools.
After operating at James Lyng high school in St. Henri for one year, principal Craig Olenik says it is an effective program.
Two years ago, fewer than 39% of students graduated.
"This past year we've been able to increase it up to about 52%," said Olenik. " Our efforts and our focuses have started to yield results."
Gabriel Bran Lopez likes to think part of those results may be due to his program.
"It's about inspiring the kids through projects that are exciting and make them want to come to school," said Lopez.
Through a number of projects, high school students get the chance to interact with successful university students, who provide a concrete example of why an education matters.
Some of the university students are leading groups on business and the environment, while leaders like Julian Synette are looking at their own background for inspiration.
"What kept me in school? A lot of activities, sports, acting, everything," said Synette. "I wasn't there to listen to a teacher for an hour. I was there to see my friends and have a good time."
For many of the James Lyng students, this is their first encounter with someone who's gone on to university, and Youth Fusion hopes this regular weekly contact will help the students see a future beyond the streets of their neighbourhood.
Melanie Ouellette has already been convinced.
"I want to be successful and I want to become a lawyer so for that I have to do through high school and then go to university or college and all that," said Ouellette.
Quebec's Education Minister says Youth Fusion is on the right track.
"It is proved that through arts or through sports, young people stay at school," said Michelle Courchesne
Youth in Motion
Rodney Ramcharitar is one youth who is realizing the effects of leaving school.
"I kinda dropped out at 17," said Ramcharitar, a decision that he made after failing grade ten.
Shakeel Perry says smoking pot got in the way of his studies, so he dropped out.
"I started doing it a lot in grade nine and then it messed up my school and I got lazy... Never did my homework... Never home," said Perry.
The pair are now being paid minimum wage to work at Youth in Motion.
At the centre they are learning how to apply for a job, how to learn a trade, and perhaps get convinced to return to school.
Youth in Motion leader Michael Farkas thinks part of the dropout problem in Quebec is the disconnect between the province's immigrant population and the classroom.
"School's approach and the school board's approach has to be a little more attentive to the reality of these kids coming from impoverished areas," said Farkas.
He thinks schools in general are out of touch with what students are interested in and how they learn.
"We're dealing with a whole youth subculture," said Farkas. "We go back to Shakespeare, and let's bring it up to Jay Z and Michael."
After attending workshops, Perry is now convinced to go back to school.
"This programme's made me see my future. I can't be doing what I'm doing," said Perry. "This programme saved me. 'Cause if it wasn't for this programme I'd be in jail or dead."