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Building identity in Quebec: adapting to the realities of the student body

Association canadienne d'éducation
de langue française (ACELF)


This is the third article in a series of four. The first two articles are titled Building identity in Quebec: pilot project in the Pontiac region and Building identity in Quebec: strategies for success.

Since the summer of 2010, the Association canadienne d'éducation de langue française (ACELF) and the Fédération canadienne des directions d'école francophone (FCDEF) have been working with the Hauts-Bois-de-l'Outaouais School Board to set up an identity-building pilot project in Quebec's Pontiac region. The project aims to provide assistance to the administrators and staff of six elementary schools and one secondary school whose student bodies have all the characteristics of a student body in a Francophone minority community. A series of four articles looks at the nature of this unifying project and its benefits for local students.

New Approaches, New Solutions and ACELF expertise: perfectly complementary!

Since 2002, the Quebec ministry of education has been applying its New Approaches, New Solutions (NANS) intervention strategy in disadvantaged areas to improve the success rate of high school students. Aimed at student bodies with multiple but specific profiles, the strategy promotes teaching methods adapted to the students' realities.

The ACELF's identity building initiative has the same basis. Various programs, activities and tools designed for French-language education stakeholders help them foster the development of a Francophone identity in youth. The aim here is to promote a teaching method that takes into account the requirements of an environment where French is not the majority language.

A mixed student body

The student body in the Pontiac region exhibits the characteristics of a disadvantaged area to the same extent as a student body in a Francophone minority community, a situation that requires highly targeted interventions. "Our school was rated at 10 by the ministry of education, the highest rating used to designate a disadvantaged area," explained Denis Rossignol, principal of Sieur-de-Coulonge High School in Fort-Coulonge. With 330 students, the high school is also "the only Francophone school west of Gatineau." Mr. Rossignol is not the only one to recognize that "the area is largely influenced by English."

Achieving success through combined strategies

To meet the specific needs of the student body in the Pontiac region, and to improve the student success rate, the ACELF initiative and NANS have combined to produce a winning strategy within the schools run by the Hauts-Bois-de-l'Outaouais School Board.

The NANS strategy identifies practices that foster reading development in high school students, encourages school staff to participate in project planning and focuses on bringing families, the community and the school together. Since identity building encourages community cooperation and aims for student success in an environment where French is not the majority language, the ACELF's expertise in identity building is thus a perfect complement to the strategy.

Developing cultural pride in students to foster student success

"Our students lack knowledge of Francophone culture," explained Mr. Rossignol. "And since their French vocabulary is poor, they often tend to express themselves in English." As a direct result, they find it harder to succeed in French and in all other school subjects that are, of course, taught in French.

Mr. Rossignol and Lorraine Meilleur, principal of the Pontiac elementary school, therefore recognize the importance of working very hard to ensure that students develop a Francophone identity. This is where the ACELF's expertise in identity building becomes essential for local schools. According to Claire Thibideau, director general of the FCDEF, there is a link between students' academic success and their cultural pride. "Young people who are proud of their Francophone culture want to speak French, and to speak it well. This pushes them to develop better language skills, which has a direct impact on success," she explained.

And to enhance students' pride in their Francophone culture, we must develop intervention strategies aimed at creating a positive relationship between the French language and youth. "Already, there seems to be some improvement," added
Mr. Rossignol. "Twenty years ago, high school students didn't know much about Francophone artists, whereas today, they know a little more about them."

The project the Hauts-Bois-de-l'Outaouais School Board has undertaken with the ACELF and the FCDEF is still in its early stages, and much remains to be done. In the next and last article of this series, we will look at the action plan drawn up in September 2011 and expected benefits.