Combined high school, trade degree program helping students change paths

A school in the Lower St-Lawrence is offering struggling high school students a program where they graduate with not only a high school diploma, but also a trade degree in an in-demand sector.

Students alternate between academic classes and practical internships

Sophie Lafrance-Ouellet says she would likely have dropped out if it weren't for this different school that allows her to go to class and do internships. (Marika Wheeler/CBC)

A school in the Lower St-Lawrence is offering struggling high school students a program where they graduate with not only a high school diploma, but also a trade degree.

The school, Maison Familiale Rurale Kamouraska-Riviere-du-Loup-Témiscouata-Basques, is based on a French model where students learn trades linked to the agricultural sector.

"In all of Quebec, in all of North America probably, there is a dire need for young people to take over farms" says Normand Provençal, the coordinator of the school.

Students can choose a diploma in agriculture, maple syrup production, heavy-machinery maintenance, or train to become an administrative assistant.

Students at the "Rural Family Home" school in Lower St-Lawrence alternate between classes and internships to graduate with high school and trade diploma. Marika Wheeler visits and finds out what they will do with a $80,000 provincial grant.

For alternating two-week periods, students attend classes in St-Clement, sleeping in a converted presbytery a few doors away from the school building. When they're not in St-Clement, they return home for two weeks for internships.

Student Success

Sophie Lafrance-Ouellet,18, first heard about the program from her psychologist. She was falling behind in high school and was often in detention, she says, because of an attention deficit disorder that makes her seek attention in large groups.

She says in the three years she has been at this different school, she has advanced in her education, and she's doing what she loves during her internships.

Normand Provencal, the coordinator of the school, says 83 percent of students graduate with two degrees. (Marika Wheeler/CBC)

"[If I weren't here] I don't know where I would be … but I would likely have dropped out," she says.

Lafrance-Ouellet has now finished Secondary 4 and says she will graduate at the end of next year with a high school diploma and a degree to be an administrative assistant.

But she says her long-term goal is to be a daycare worker.

"When we're in a regular school, we don't necessarily know if we'll like what we want to do [as a job], but here we get to try," she says. "When I came here, I realized I love working with children when I did my internships."

Provincial investment

The school, part of the Commission Scolaire du Fleuves-et-des-Lacs, recently received $80,000 from the province to get the presbytery building up to fire code.

The money will be used to build a fire exit with a staircase at the back of the building. Currently, the only way to get out of the the second storey if the main indoor staircase is blocked is to jump off a balcony.

The money will also be used to put up fire retardant walls and improve cooking and ventilation facilities in the kitchen.

The school's coordinator says the region is particularly sensitive to fire safety after the L'Île-Verte fire in 2014 that killed 32 seniors.

The provincial money topped off what was needed to make nearly $300,000 worth of renovations to both the school building and presbytery.

MFR model

The Maison Familiale Rural, or Rural Family Home, model is based a French program. Normand Provençal says there are more than 700 such homes in France, but only two in Quebec.

Normand Provençal says 83 per cent of students succeed in getting both their diplomas.

The only other school like this one in the province is the MFR du Granit in St-Romain in the Eastern Townships area.


Marika Wheeler

Radio-Canada journalist

Marika is based in Quebec City, where, after a 14-year career at CBC, she is now a member of Radio-Canada's enterprise journalism team.