Lunch-hour program transforms school

“It gave students a place to belong…it made them feel better about themselves.”

MONTREAL, QC–A new pilot program designed by Christian Direction staff has seen dramatic impacts in the lives of troubled youth in a struggling Montreal high school.

Offered through a partnership between the school and a community family organization, the program provided a safe environment with fun activities for students in Grades 7 and 8, in an effort to build social skills, self confidence and improve their academic engagement.

“A year ago, the school was in crisis, both academically and socially,” explains Christian Direction community development organizer Sandra Smith. “Many of the teens have learning difficulties, social skill limitations, and there were a number of bullies who were making life miserable at the school.”

The lower-income neighbourhood that feeds into the school, École de Chomedey-de-Maisonneuve, struggles with numerous socio-economic problems including many single-parent families and broken homes. Smith says students have very few role models and many would leave school during the lunch break and not return for afternoon classes.

Seeking to break this trend, the school administration asked Samuel Augustin, one of Smith’s employees at Christian Direction, if he would design several lunchtime activities to engage the troubled youth. During the past few years, Augustin had developed a strong rapport with the staff and students through a local after-school program and a smaller scale pilot the year before.

“So Samuel launched a new pilot project at the beginning of October (2014),” says Smith. “He offered a bunch of activities; everything from making and selling a cookie mix, an improvisation club, ping pong, soccer, knitting (which drew both boys and girls), board games, dance, drama, and a beauty and self-image project for girls.”

Each activity ran for 10 weeks. The project’s goal was to reach 40 to 60 students, but by the end of the year they had engaged 240 kids, with more than 60 regulars.

“The personnel at the school noticed a marked improvement in the atmosphere and the problem of intimidation. They’ve mentioned names of kids whose behaviour noticeably improved. It gave students a place to belong. For some, it gave them a goal to move towards and it made them feel better about themselves.”

Augustin says he saw a profound change in the students’ attitudes. “These were kids who were isolated, closed off and had no friends,” he explains, “but as they participated, they built confidence and began to carry themselves differently. By the end of the program they were more social and they were able to talk about who they are and what they were doing. The school administration told me the program surpassed their expectations.”

As Augustin built relationships with the kids, many opened up about struggles they were facing. In fact, even the teachers started turning to him with their problems.

“At the start of the year, the teachers and administration had a lot of stress. During the months I worked there, many shared their stress and their frustrations with me and over time I noticed the environment at the school became more peaceful.”

Augustin says one student he worked with was very insecure and struggled with an incredible amount of frustration, stress and rejection.

“After joining our program the youth had a total transformation. The faculty said the youth became a leader in school projects. The journey is not finished, but the youth was no longer the same student who looked so upset and often cried.”

Another student Augustin met was excited about the program for a different reason. She was a Christian and told him, “I’ve been praying for years that something would happen that could change the school.”

“She saw that God was answering her prayers through this program,” says Augustin. “It’s marvellous to be involved in this. Our role is to sow seeds of love. Alone, we couldn’t accomplish any of this, but God enabled us to bring hope to people who were in distress.”

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About the author

Senior Correspondent

Craig Macartney lives in Ottawa, Ontario, where he follows global politics and dreams of life in the mission field.