Students in the alternative program and those on the work-oriented training path (WOTP) at Chateauguay Valley Regional High School (CVR) have been participating in a year-long series of online media-arts and leadership workshops, led by a Montreal-based non-profit called LOVE (Quebec).
The LOVE (Leave Out Violence Everywhere) project stemmed from a collaboration between the New Frontiers School Board, LOVE, and the Montérégie West Community Network (MWCN) to help students strengthen their interpersonal skills and emotional regulation. The 13-week hybrid program included a focus on photography as a creative outlet, to allow 46 students to express themselves and share stories with their peers.
On May 2, the participants gathered in the CVR library to close out the project with a vernissage showcasing framed photographs and some of their writing. Robyn Dalton, the executive director of LOVE, and the program director, Cedric Joseph (who led the workshops for LOVE) surprised the participants with an in-person visit.
“This is the second year of piloting an online project, and the first time working with this school,” says Dalton of the initiative at CVR. LOVE (Quebec) had received funding from the Mouvement Desjardins to bring their innovative programs to more isolated schools; the CVR initiative is one of two projects, the other being a Cree school in Waswanipi in the Eeyou Istchee territory of central Quebec. Dalton suggests it was serendipitous that while they were looking for a school, the MWCN was looking for a partner.
Joseph says the collaboration worked wonderfully. “All I have known is in-person workshops, and online is very interesting,” he says, while acknowledging the reassuring presence of the MWCN, which ensured two employees were present during each workshop, and the teachers.
Each meeting was organized around an underlying theme, and different elements were introduced to draw the students into a conversation or activity designed to help them master their emotions.
Dalton says the students’ reactions to meeting Joseph in-person suggests “The work that we do can still cross that boundary.” She feels they have established “a pretty solid set of winning conditions,” and hopes the project can continue.
The MWCN is also pleased with the initiative, which was funded through the Community Health and Social Services Network (CHSSN) and the provincial secretariat for relations with English-speaking Quebecers. “This has such a ripple effect,” says MWCN executive director Pauline Wiedow, who recounts hearing about one student who sat in the back of the classroom and refused to participate in the program. “Two weeks later, she had moved her chair into the circle,” she says.
“In my 35-year career, I have never seen such a collaboration to address the needs of students who have difficulty finding work and who need further development of their personal skills,” exclaimed CVR principal Gary Tennant, saying he is proud of his staff and their involvement with the project.
Vice-principal Melissa Larocque was equally impressed with the impact of the program. “It was really nice to cater to these groups specifically,” she says, while admitting they were pleasantly surprised by the students’ level of commitment.
“They have learned how to communicate kindly and respectfully,” says alternative program teacher Sayard Chartrand. She says her students have become kinder people, and this has positively impacted classroom etiquette and attitudes. “It fits nicely with my alternative program to help kids find a way to fall in love with school again.”