Anti-dropout initiative shows promise
The province's fight against its dismal high school dropout rate has a new weapon: university students.
For the past year, a group of Concordia undergrads has been mentoring disadvantaged high-school students in a bid to prevent the teenagers from dropping out.
As part of the Youth Fusion program, seven students were hired to mentor students at seven high schools in Montreal, and work with them on projects of their choice.
Adam O'Callaghan was dropped into Polyvalente Pierre Dupuis, east of Montreal's downtown core, which has one of the highest dropout rates in Quebec.
The musician who wants to be a music teacher found the assignment challenging but rewarding.
"I would coach kids who were singing and rapping and doing a bit of their own thing," said O'Callaghan.
James Lyng High School, in St. Henri, is another of the seven schools that is part of the Youth Fusion program.
According to Gabriel Bran Lopez, Youth Fusion's founder, absenteeism at the school has dropped.
"Absenteeism rates went down by 40% and the graduation rate went up by 12.6% since we went in," said Lopez.
Lopez, a recent Concordia University graduate, started the program after reading that many high school students wanted more extracurricular activities.
He decided to make it happen with people who are old enough to be respected, but young enough to acutely remember the difficulties of high school.
"There's enough age gap for there to be respect but their ages are so close so that there's synergy," said Lopez.
Concordia University president Judith Woodsworth is impressed with Lopez's work.
"It's terrific for the students to be able to give back and once they've done it they're very proud and they become better citizens," said Dr. Woodsworth.
Lopez has approached other universities with the aim of expanding the program and his efforts are paying off.
Youth Fusion has gained the support of six other Quebec universities, and might soon be set up in some of the Cree schools in northern Quebec.