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MONTREAL, JUNE 9, 2016 - Marysa Barassi began her career as a teacher of adult education in 1988 at what is currently the St. Pius X Culinary and Business Centre in Montreal. After 11 years in that role, she became vice-principal of the centre, and in 2005, was named principal. Three years ago, she moved into the position of principal at the St. Laurent Adult Education Centre.

Ms. Barassi, who will retire on June 30, has embraced the joys and challenges of working in the adult sector with gratitude, empathy, tough love, teamwork, respect, hard work, and always, humour and laughter. During the course of her career, she had the privilege of assisting people with diverse backgrounds and struggles who came from far away war-torn, poverty-stricken countries, and as close by as the Greater Montreal area.

Over the span of 28 years, Ms. Barassi has witnessed significant changes in the field, particularly in the demographics of the student population. “When I started at Pius, I was in my early 30s and all of my students were older than me,” she says. “That was the makeup of the adult population,” she remarked. “Today, the greatest portion of our population in academics are 16 to 24 years old. They are much younger.”

Currently, many students come to the adult sector to receive their high school diplomas, whereas 30 years ago they came to change their career path, having already completed higher education. “Now, many students come to the adult sector because they have fallen through the cracks,” she said. “Something happened along the way and we need to fix that and find a new path for the student.”

In her time at Pius, Ms. Barassi had the opportunity to enjoy the reputable culinary institute, and the unique vibe that comes from a kitchen classroom. She fondly remembers the hustle and bustle, loud voices and clanging of equipment, and the complete departure from the traditional classroom, noticeably the lack of desks and chairs. An occasional testing of the student’s culinary delights was certainly an essential part of Ms. Barassi’s job!

Ms. Barassi’s final three years of administration at St. Laurent Adult Centre have been rewarding. A community-based educational establishment situated in the heart of St. Laurent, it serves a large multi-cultural student population and promotes the values of tolerance, non-discrimination, and respect for people and property.

The centre’s motto is Respect + Hard Work = Success, a slogan that Ms. Barassi brought with her from Pius, and has instilled in the culture of the centre. To her, it confers the message of respecting your environment and everybody in it, and if you work hard, you will succeed.

An involved and supportive principal, Ms. Barassi believes that there is always a way to help a student, particularly if the student has come from a long line of ‘can nots.’ Students at St. Laurent sign a contract that reinforces the positive, including insisting that students be present every day, do their work, come on time, etc. “There were too many ‘do nots’ in the prior contract,” she added. “The focus is on the student and the student’s success and mental well-being.”

In order to respond to the growing needs and learning differences of their student population, St. Laurent Adult Centre has begun the implementation of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in their classrooms. Initiated at the school by past vice-principal Denise Maroun, UDL takes away barriers to learning, making it accessible to students of all learning abilities. “When creating your lesson plan, you imagine having the student with the greatest difficulty learning, and you plan accordingly. Then you will be able to reach all of your students,” explained Ms. Barassi.

This personable principal believes that the greatest asset any leader can have is communication and making people belong and feel important. Humour is clearly a gift that Ms. Barassi uses on a regular basis. In addition, teamwork is essential, and sharing your vision amongst your team. “You can’t be an expert at everything. But you can tap into the expertise of others and share it. It’s a continuous growth process,” she shared.

When asked what the highlight of her career has been, Ms. Barassi responded: “If I could single out one amongst many it would be when we finally find a way to help ‘that’ student that we haven’t been able to reach. That has been extremely rewarding.

“I count my blessings. They come in all shapes and sizes. Regardless of where I am and who I work with, everyday is filled with many of them. Three years is not a long time, but if I do leave on a high note, I hope that it is finding the way to help every student reach that first success. If they succeed once then they know that they can. That first success is pivotal,” concluded Ms. Barassi.

Ms. Barassi welcomes incoming principal Daniela Lattanzio, current principal of Dante Elementary School, and past principal of Galileo and Marymount Adult Centres. She is certain that Ms. Lattanzio will be warmly welcomed at St. Laurent, and that her background in adult education will prove to be of great benefit to the centre.

As her retirement approaches, Ms. Barassi is looking forward to spending time with her three grandchildren. She hopes to remain involved in the field of education, assist on special projects, and volunteer. Passionate about the beauty and joy of reading, she looks forward to reading to Kindergarten and Grade 1 level students. “There’s nothing more beautiful than getting lost in a good story,” she shared. Until then, family time is on the agenda. “I’m ready to enjoy the next chapter in my life.”

Michael J. Cohen
Communications and Marketing Specialist
English Montreal School Board
Tel: (514) 483-7200 ext. 7243
Fax: (514) 483-7213