Montreal school helps failing students graduate by adapting to their needs

Secondaire adapté à ta situation is a program offered by a Montreal school board to help students between the ages of 16 and 18 graduate high school.

Initiative offers students opportunity to complete degree in before entering job market

18-year-old Cassandra Messier, left, who's been attending the SAS school since August, said she felt she needed guidance. (Radio-Canada)

A high school adapted to your situation — that's how an initiative of Montreal's Marguerite Bourgeoys school board (CSMB) describes itself.

Secondaire adapté à ta situation (SAS) school aims to help students between the ages of 16 and 18 who failed their high school exams. It offers them the opportunity to complete their degree in a specialized environment before entering the job market full time.

The students often don't feel at home in traditional high schools, but also feel like they are too young to enrol in continuing education classes.

The courses can be taken part time or full time, and take one semester to complete instead of an entire school year.

Cassandra Messier is an 18-year-old who's been attending the school since August. She said she felt she needed guidance.

"We don't have too many courses, and it goes by faster," she said.

She's taking math and English courses this semester. In the fall, she was working on French and science, which she passed after taking exams in January.

Messier's goal is to become a lawyer, and now her high school diploma is within reach. 

In order to recruit students, principal Salah Dine Ouici gets a list of all the people who didn't graduate from the 12 CSMB high schools. He cross-references that list with that of summer school enrolment. (Radio-Canada)

Recruitment crucial, principal says

Like all the students at the school, Messier had a long way to go when she first got there.

"In general, these are students who have had a difficult time," said principal Salah Dine Ouici.

The school was founded in 2013 in Outremont, and just opened a new pavilion in Dorval. This year, 135 students are attending the Outremont school and 95 are in Dorval.

In order to recruit students, Ouici consults a list of all the students who didn't graduate from the 12 CSMB high schools. He cross-references that list with that of summer school enrolment.

Then, he and his team call the students who aren't enrolled in summer school, who are at a higher risk of dropping out.

They try to convince the students to register for the SAS and to set up an appointment with a guidance counsellor to define their goals.

"It's very important to talk to them," Ouici said.

He explained that these students might otherwise tell themselves that school is not for them, decide to finish later in life and start working instead.

At the CSMB, the rate of students getting their diplomas is 85.9 per cent, compared to 85 per cent last year. (Radio-Canada)

Throughout the school board, the graduation rate is 85.9 per cent, a figure that includes those who graduate from vocational studies and vocational qualification programs.

That rate puts CSMB in third place among francophone school boards in Quebec, behind Découvreurs, in the Quebec City region, and Fleuve-et-des-Lacs, in the Lower Saint Lawrence.

CSMB president Diane Lamarche-Venne partly attributes the board's success to its efforts to keep youth interested in graduating, which include the SAS school.

A different approach

SAS math teacher Jessie Turgeon explained that he takes a different approach with his students.

"Authority doesn't fly with them," he said. He doesn't punish his students for being late or absent.

"I make them understand that the consequence of their lateness is more having missed the beginning of class, and that the time will have to be made up or else they won't pass their class."

Turgeon takes the time to make sure everyone understands, and congratulates them as soon as they succeed.

Ouici is pleased with results so far — he says 82 per cent of SAS students who applied to CEGEP have been accepted.

"It makes me very proud," he said. "I love my students and if it makes them happy, it makes me happy."

Based on a report by Radio-Canada