Association canadienne d'éducation de langue française (ACELF)
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.
In this identity-building project with the schools in Pontiac, "the first issue was to reach a common understanding of the problem," explained Claire Thibideau, director general of the FCDEF. Indeed, a realistic awareness of the situation is an essential prerequisite to creating effective strategies.
Starting with their desire to improve the academic success rate of students, the administrators and staff of the seven schools agreed to undertake a process of reflection in order to better understand the Francophone reality for youth in Pontiac. Ms. Thibideau and Rita Tremblay, educational consultant for the ACELF, would guide them over the course of the year.
"Even though we are in Quebec, youth in Pontiac have the same characteristics, with respect to identity, as youth in Canada's Francophone minority communities," explained Ms. Thibideau. "In fact, the environment is mostly Anglophone—English is prominent on signage and in the media, the rate of exogamy (one Francophone parent and one Anglophone parent) is very high, and youth say they are bilingual rather than Francophone, identifying more strongly with Anglophone culture (music, movies, recreational activities). Moreover, many young people say they feel inferior because they speak French, not daring to exercise their rights. "All of these factors have made the situation of French in Pontiac and in Quebec very vulnerable," she added.
In the 2010-11 school year, therefore, meetings were held with school administrators and educators. The presentations were focused on understanding the problem and on making teachers aware of their role as Francophone models for youth.
At a meeting in November, Grade 5 and 6 teacher Isabelle Nadeau, Ms. Thibideau and Ms. Tremblay decided to give personal accounts to the teachers of the seven schools. "We all have our reasons for defending and protecting French," explained Ms. Nadeau. "We wanted to share our experiences with the teachers and explain why we believe it is important to work together to strengthen the Francophone identity of our young people," she added.
Ms. Nadeau's experience as a teacher in Manitoba helped her understand how fragile the French language was. Ms. Thibideau came to the same understanding when she was very young, at a time when her French school in Ontario was facing possible closure. "French is what we are, it's our identity, and we have a duty to pass it on to youth," added Ms. Nadeau.
Following this meeting, fifteen or so teachers, in partnership with Ms. Thibideau and
Ms. Tremblay, formed a development committee aimed at putting in place strategies to promote Francophone identity building to students of the seven local schools when classes resumed in September 2011.
But how do we make youth want to succeed in French? "We have to provide them with opportunities to enjoy positive experiences in French," said Ms. Nadeau. The ACELF agrees. "The model for identity building is in fact based on the principle that integrating French in a positive way into students' lives is an excellent way to strengthen their sense of belonging and foster their involvement in the Francophonie," added ACELF president Yves St Maurice.
"For me, it's music," said Ms. Nadeau. Every week, the avid music lover introduces French songs and artists to her students. "At the start of the school year, they are reluctant and uninterested. But as the year progresses, I see attitudes change." She also invites students to join her when Francophone artists perform locally. "This year, a student told me that she now goes to almost all the Francophone shows in the area!"
In our next article, we will see how the ACELF's expertise put into practice in the schools in Pontiac aligns with the objectives of the Quebec ministry of education's program New Approaches, New Solutions, aimed at improving student success in Pontiac.