2 Quebec teachers in running for $1M Global Teacher Prize

Yvan Girouard, a science teacher at les Etchemins High School in Lévis, and Maggie MacDonnell, who teaches at the Ikusik School in Salluit, were both shortlisted out of an initial field of 20,000 entries from 179 countries.

Science teacher in Lévis, life skills teacher in Salluit among top 50 finalists

Yvan Girouard pictured in his classroom 'museum' at les Etchemins High School in Lévis, Que. (Yvan Girouard)

Two Quebec high school teachers are among the top 50 finalists for the Global Teacher Prize.

Yvan Girouard, a science teacher at les Etchemins High School in Lévis, and Maggie MacDonnell, who teaches life skills at the Ikusik School in Salluit, were both shortlisted for the $1 million US prize out of an initial field of 20,000 entries from 179 countries.

The news caps a good year for both teachers: Girouard received the Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence in May and MacDonnell was recognized for her work in June by the Governor General of Canada, David Johnston.

'Professeur Duracell'

Girouard, 53, has been teaching science and environmental technology for more than 20 years and is famous among students for his energy — they call him "Professeur Duracell" — and what he calls his classroom "museum."

Featuring 20 aquariums, a huge collection of taxidermied animals and a 10-metre long dinosaur made of recycled materials, Girouard's classroom helps create an atmosphere that inspires his students to take a closer look at the world around them.

"I love teaching and I love the sciences. I think the more we give students, the more they give in return," he said.

"My students are always interested. I always have students in the morning, at noon — students looking to get involved in projects all the time."

Yvan Girouard's classroom is adorned with a 10-metre dinosaur that he and students built from recycled materials. (Yvan Girouard)

Building role models

Maggie MacDonnell was working on youth-related projects in Africa when her sister tipped her off to a job opening for a teacher in Salluit.

The Nova Scotia native has now been in the remote northern Quebec community for six years, where she's worked with students to help them build life skills through sports and fitness training.

Maggie MacDonnell, right, started a running club with her students in Nunavik to improve their physical health and give them an outlet for the personal and social challenges they face. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

She's also worked with the municipality to build a fitness centre that is open to adults and the local schools, and she started a running club to keep kids motivated.

Her runners have since competed in half-marathons in Hawaii and elsewhere and are now the faces of the Healthy Choices tour, visiting schools across the region to offer peer-to-peer presentations about issues of mental health, addiction, dropping out of school, and using physical activity to help overcome some of these challenges.

The runners are gaining new skills of leadership and public speaking in the process.

"They're starting to see themselves as role models which is a really magical moment for them," she said.

Winner named next March

The top 50 finalists will be narrowed to a field of 10 in the coming months and the winner will be announced in March 2017.

If she wins, MacDonnell plans she to use the money to open a not-for-profit that runs environmentally-focused programs for northern youth. Girouard said he would divide the prize with the 10 finalists and use his share to develop more projects at his school.

The Global Teacher Prize is the largest prize of its kind and was established by the Dubai-based Varkey Foundation.

With files from Canadian Press