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Building identity in Quebec: pilot project in the Pontiac region

Association canadienne d'éducation de langue française (ACELF)


This is the first article in a series of four.

Since the summer of 2010, the Association canadienne d'éducation de langue française (ACELF) has 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 will look at the nature of this unifying project and its benefits for local students.

Is French the majority language in Quebec?

Isabelle Nadeau, a Grade 5 and 6 teacher at école primaire Notre-Dame-du-Sacré-Cœur in Chapeau, Quebec, made a heartfelt appeal to the ACELF in the summer of 2010, calling on its expertise in identity building. This expertise is well known to French-speaking educators in Francophone communities across Canada, but less so in Quebec.

In the early 2000s, the ACELF developed the model for identity building to provide youth growing up in a Francophone minority community with the means to live their Francophone identity to the fullest. On the basis of that model, a comprehensive and adapted set of activities, tools and programs has been developed for Francophone teachers.

Pontiac: snapshot of a Francophone student body

Having taught for four years in a Francophone school in Manitoba, Isabelle Nadeau has had the opportunity to get to know the ACELF's expertise. But most importantly, she has learned that educators in minority communities play a dual role: "In addition to teaching subjects, educators must also fight to promote French to young people." On arriving in Pontiac, Isabelle realized that while her colleagues faced the same dual challenge, few tools were available to them. "I immediately thought of the ACELF for help," said Isabelle. "Even though we're in Quebec, the situation of students here is oddly similar to that of minority Francophones elsewhere in Canada." "About half of our students' families are Anglophone, while the other half speak a variety of French we call pontiçois," explained Lorraine Meilleur, principal of the Pontiac elementary school.

Identity building is for everyone

Although the first tools to emerge from the model for identity building were initially intended for the minority Francophone educational community, they are equally applicable to Quebec. "Young people who go to school undergo a process of development to become well-rounded adults. For that to happen, they must construct an identity," explained ACELF president Yves St-Maurice. "And identity flows from culture and language, regardless of whether young people grow up in a majority or minority community. Identity building is for everyone," he added.

Therefore, "the ACELF quite naturally acted on Isabelle's request," said
Richard Lacombe, director general of the ACELF. To help the school board, the ACELF called on two experts in identity building: Rita Tremblay, educational consultant for the ACELF, and Claire Thibideau, director general of the Fédération canadienne des directions d'école francophone. In August 2010, the two women met with the administrators and staff of the seven schools of the Hauts-Bois-de-l'Outaouais School Board, in the Pontiac region. The objective was twofold: to establish the profile of local students, and to make school staff aware that students who do not use the language of instruction at home need to be taught differently and properly equipped in order to build language identity.

Awareness: the first step towards change

Following the first meetings with the ACELF, Isabelle said that "most administrators and teachers now recognize that our students live in a special environment and that, contrary to what people might think, French is not the majority language. That's already a huge step! We also increasingly understand that, as educators, we must provide positive role models for students, in French."

Awareness is the starting point for any change process. The administrators and staff of the seven regional schools understand this; and that is why for the past year, in cooperation with the ACELF, they have been committed to adopting strategies that will further their students' success and positively reinforce their sense of Francophone identity. Find out more about these strategies in our next article.